Climate Policy Swings and Balloons

D.C. Energy News, Inside and Out
October 10, 2017
October 2017: “Reliability Month”
October 17, 2017

As anticipated since just after the November 2016 election, the Trump Administration, through Environmental Protection Agency Administrator (EPA) Scott Pruitt, has officially released documents that set the stage for repeal of the Clean Power Plan. PACE welcomes this move. The original CPP, especially its approach to existing plants, failed to adequately consider how the CPP would raise electricity costs and create lasting impacts on consumers. It deserved the nickname PACE and countless other groups gave it – a carbon reduction mandate. 

Creation of the original CPP was complex and lengthy. It sprang into public view June 2013, when President Obama gave a significant speech at Georgetown University. Early looks at the plan prompted millions of consumers and businesses to register complaints starting that fall. The agency issued a final rule in 2015, but it never took effect, after a Supreme Court stay in February 2016.

CPP repeal could be equally time-consuming. But it’s appropriate to start now that EPA has brought on more high-level team members, had a chance to evaluate career staff in the agency, and ahead of the 2018 kickoff for many state legislatures.

In the (probably) near future, the Federal Register will publish EPA’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, kicking off an initial 60-day public comment period designed to foster discussion of whether and how to replace the rule. It also seems certain that advocacy groups and some state attorneys general will file court challenges to EPA’s new NOPR.

In contrast to the relatively understated (for the Trump era, especially) manner in which EPA announced its plans, some opponents have already wound up the hyperbole (fundraising) machine. Take for example, this tweet from a leading California lawmaker: “Washington’s utter failure to confront the existential threat of climate change will go down among the most shameful chapters in US history.”  Or a leading national advocacy group: “Trump and Pruitt will go down in infamy for launching one of the most egregious attacks ever on public health, our climate, and the safety of every community in the United States.” 

Before the rhetoric wars begin again in earnest, policymakers and media pundits should focus on key questions and the overarching need to navigate the U.S. toward a thoughtful national energy policy. Conversations from the first round of CPP debate are still necessary, including:

• The Clean Air Act wasn’t designed to deal with carbon emissions; Congress has a responsibility to address this.

• The Clean Power Plan asked U.S. consumers and businesses to take enormous steps, yet seemed to ignore global trends in use of coal for power generation.

• EPA’s plans for reaching far outside the operations of power plants exceeded its legal authority.

• Reliability is critically important, and raising it isn’t a dodge by utilities and businesses. EPA doesn’t answer the calls when blackouts and brownouts roll over consumers. 

• State lawmakers, businesses and regulators have the best first-hand knowledge about their local power market and consumer needs.

• Natural gas may not always be overwhelmingly cheap and plentiful, nor favored by environmental advocates.

• Rules aren’t worth much without accessible technology to implement them.

As the climate policy pendulum swing picks up speed, PACE will resume our efforts to make sure that consumer voices are heard, key questions get sufficient airtime, and rhetorical balloons are punctured with common-sense.