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.