On Tuesday, Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), signed a regulation to repeal the Clean Power Plan, President Obama’s signature environmental policy finalized in 2015. The plan was intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 32 percent in 2030 compared to 2005 levels.
The plan, which never went into effect, would have allowed states to meet those goals through a variety of means, including switching from burning coal to natural gas, which produces significantly less greenhouse gases, or increasing renewable energy sources. It would also have made it difficult to build new coal-fired power plants.
Stanford News Service spoke with economist Charles Kolstad, legal scholar Deborah Sivas and climate policy expert Michael Wara about the EPA’s move and what it might mean for efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In brief, what does the Clean Power Plan (CPP) require and what are its objectives?
Kolstad: The goal of the CPP is to reduce carbon emissions in the United States. But it is carefully constructed to be legally consistent with the Clean Air Act, the legislation underpinning it. In particular, it gives each state a carbon reduction goal and asks states to develop plans to achieve it, by whatever method they wish from a broad set of actions.
Sivas: The Clean Power Plan, which took the EPA many years to develop and included evaluation of over 4.3 million comments during the extended public process, was intended to be a first step and the primary vehicle by which the United States would comply with its carbon emissions reduction commitments under the Paris Accord. The plan attempts to achieve this objective by setting carbon emission performance standards for fossil fuel power plants, which account for 31 percent of all U.S. carbon emissions. Consistent with the federal-state partnership established by the Clean Air Act, the Clean Power Plan sets these performance standards based on best technologies and then allows the states flexibility in how to achieve those standards. Compliance might involve renewable energy portfolio standards, residential/commercial energy efficiency programs, emissions trading programs like California’s cap-and-trade program, or some combination of these or other state responses.
Wara: The Clean Power Plan was a big deal; it was the first time the U.S. placed any limit on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. It placed the first limits, but we assumed not the final limits. The reality is that our power sector is in the midst of a dynamic transition and we may reach the Clean Power Plan goals even without the regulation in place. We’d thought there might be a subsequent set of rules that would be more stringent in a Democratic administration. In fact, an interesting response to the repeal has been from the utilities, who say that they aren’t changing their investment plans. They planned to comply with the Clean Power Plan because that’s what market forces were encouraging anyway.Read More