One year later, Clean Power Plan having impact despite stay

A year after the Clean Power Plan was finalized, on August 3, 2015, it is already having a tangible impact on how states are thinking about carbon emissions from power plants - and even other sources - and are working to confront the climate challenge.

Before the Supreme Court temporarily halted the plan in February, most states had launched the required public stakeholder outreach.

As we’ve learned from our engagement with states through the C2ES Solutions Forum, even after the stay, many of those conversations have continued, and they’ll affect how states approach climate change regardless of the outcome of the Clean Power Plan’s judicial review.

A few states, like West Virginia, have stopped all Clean Power Plan conversations. Others, like Washington and California, are moving forward to reduce emissions beyond what the Clean Power Plan would require.

The vast majority, including states as diverse as Virginia and Wyoming, fall somewhere in the middle – thinking about, discussing, or working on potential implementation options.

Many states, like South Carolina, are talking about cleaner power because of the forces already affecting the sector today. Consider:

  • Between 2005 and 2015, U.S. power sector emissions fell 20 percent as a result of a shift from coal to natural gas, increased renewable energy, and level electricity demand.
  • Last year, nearly two-thirds of new electric capacity added to the grid was renewables.
  • Some states are grappling with how to help the No. 1 source of zero-emission power, nuclear, remain competitive in a changing marketplace.
  • Utility regulators are trying to determine how to integrate rooftop solar panels, which are surging in popularity, into the system.

For most programs under the Clean Air Act, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets emission targets, and the states determine how to reach them. The Clean Power Plan is no different. But as states began thinking through how to develop an implementation plan, they found themselves having new and different conversations with new and different colleagues.

For some state environmental officials, Clean Power Plan outreach was the first time they had spoken with their public utility regulators about electric reliability and with other stakeholders about the effects of electricity rates and energy efficiency programs on low-income communities.

State energy offices, city governments, state legislatures, utilities, clean power providers, and energy users of all kinds have been brought into the discussions, deepening relationships and broadening understanding. For example, Arizona started a robust public input process, including everyone from utilities to civic groups, that is continuing after the stay with three more meetings in 2016.

The energy sector is changing rapidly, and the Clean Air Act requires action to bend the curve toward even lower emissions. These stakeholders will have to work together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a meaningful and economically efficient way, and these new relationships will help make that happen.

The Clean Power Plan also prompted some states to examine potential implementation pathways. They often found they could reduce emissions with less expense and policy push than they had assumed. Most modeling efforts (see the Rhodium Group, MJ Bradley and Associates, and the Bipartisan Policy Center) have found even lower compliance costs when regional or national cooperation (e.g. interstate trading) is factored in, with some costs approaching zero.

States have also been learning from one another. Over the past 18 months, C2ES has helped convene stakeholders in conversations across the country to look at common themes and examine how market-based strategies can help states create plans that businesses can support and cities can help implement.

Through the Clean Power Plan process, business leaders and state and city officials across the country have learned about the opportunities and challenges of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Continuing to analyze options, do modeling and conduct stakeholder outreach, even if it falls short of writing a state plan, will have tremendous value as states consider their energy futures and when judicial review of the Clean Power Plan is complete. Evolving toward a cleaner energy system has both environmental and economic benefits, so we encourage states to continue exploring pragmatic, common-sense approaches to reach that goal.

 

Collaborating on climate resilience in Anchorage


Photo by Michael Tubman

C2ES recently headed to Anchorage, Alaska, for a two-day Solutions Forum workshop to help Mayor Ethan Berkowitz launch an effort to make the city more climate resilient.

While many cities have undertaken resilience efforts, Anchorage is integrating the corporate community into its efforts as few others have done. About 50 business leaders, city, state, federal and tribal officials, nonprofit organizations, and other experts shared their experiences addressing climate change impacts and enhancing resilience.

Alaska is on the front lines of climate change. Businesses, cities, and Alaska Native communities are all experiencing the impacts. Alaska has warmed at more than twice the rate of the rest of the United States, and Anchorage experienced its two warmest years on record in 2014 and 2015. The region has also seen less snow than normal, with 2015 snowfall totaling about half the average.

These changes have already affected winter recreation activities, important to the economy and also the spirit of a city that prides itself of having fun in the cold. This year, a trainload of snow had to be dumped on Anchorage’s streets for the ceremonial start of the iconic Iditarod sled dog race.

More frequent icing conditions and low visibility caused by warming are affecting aviation—an important mode of transportation in a state where more than 80 percent of the communities are not served by roads. Warming temperatures have also contributed to earlier snowmelt, which can lead to a month-longer fire season.

Anchorage is no stranger to preparing for extreme events. Because of Anchorage’s experience with disasters, from earthquakes to wind storms, many aspects of the city are well prepared with existing planning structures, coordination efforts, and ongoing tracking in place.

The private sector also is keenly aware of how external events can affect their employees, customers, and community. Companies’ experience with risk management and emergency management plans and drills can be coordinated with city and state agencies to build and maintain local resilience.

Workshop participants worked through the Disaster Resilience Scorecard, a tool developed by IBM and AECOM and used around the world. The scorecard helps cities establish a baseline of their current level of disaster resilience, identify priorities for investment and action, and track their progress in improving their disaster resilience over time.

Now that Anchorage has developed this baseline, C2ES will continue to work with stakeholders to explore these insights and questions that follow to helping businesses, states, and cities in Anchorage and beyond collaborate on climate resilience.

We need states to show clean energy leadership

Smart policy often comes from the states, and many states have shown and are expected to continue to show leadership in addressing climate change and promoting clean energy.

The Clean Power Plan stimulated discussions across the country, sometimes for the first time, among state energy and environment department officials, regulators, and energy companies about ways to reduce emissions. And we see momentum to keep those and other conversations going.

Consider some of the many ways states are leading:

China’s provinces learn how to reduce emissions with trading

As many U.S. states start to think about ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the proposed Clean Power Plan, it’s eye-opening to see how Chinese provinces are taking many of the same first steps.

I recently joined state officials from Arizona and Michigan and a Georgetown University professor on a study tour of China’s climate policy and low-carbon technology use at the provincial level. In each city we visited -- Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu in Sichuan province, and Changsha in Hunan province -- our meetings with government officials, academics, and nongovernmental organizations had a common theme: Environmental issues are a serious challenge for China and greenhouse gases should be addressed along with other types of pollution.

It was very encouraging to hear national, provincial, and municipal leaders all agree that something has to be done to reduce China’s emissions. But they also agreed the country faces significant challenges in reaching its goal of peaking emissions no later than 2030.

Climate Action Plan making progress on all fronts

Two years after President Obama announced his Climate Action Plan, the administration has taken at least initial steps on all 75 of its goals, according to a new C2ES status report.

The Climate Action Plan aims to reduce overall U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. While some steps in the plan are simple and within existing policies and programs, achieving some of the plan’s goals will require a transformation of the U.S. energy system over a period that will outlast President Obama’s time in office.

Federal and state measures beyond those in the plan will be needed to achieve the U.S. pledge to achieve a 26 to 28 percent reduction in U.S. emissions by 2025 as part of the effort to reach an international climate agreement.