December 1, 2017 Read More →

EPA Hosts the Beginning of the End of the Clean Power Plan in Coal Country

The Intercept:

The CPP was announced two years ago, it came under immediate fire from coal-, oil- and gas-producing states as an example of federal overreach. Twenty-eight state attorneys general — including then-Oklahoma Attorney General Pruitt and West Virginia’s Patrick Morrisey — sued the Obama administration over the plan shortly after it was announced, and it remained tied up in court proceedings in the last months of Obama’s presidency. In early October of this year, Pruitt announced his intention to officially repeal the plan.

The CPP, Pruitt said, “wasn’t about regulating to make things regular. It was truly about regulating to pick winners and losers, and they interpreted the best system of emission reduction is generating electricity, not using fossil fuels,” he said at his announcement of the repeal in Hazard, Kentucky. Yet many in West Virginia are familiar with the state and federal government doing exactly that in favor of coal production.

The CPP’s goal is to scale back U.S. power plants’ carbon dioxide emissions by an estimated 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, a feat that depends on states coming up with their own individualized plans to reduce emissions along that timeline, working off a basic outline provided by the EPA that they would tweak and then submit to the agency. If a state failed to create plans along the parameters the CPP outlined, the federal government could move in to impose a plan. In that sense, states can still choose to follow-through on whatever plans they have already drafted or were planning to create. According to an analysis from the Rhodium Group, half of states are on track to beat or nearly meet their CPP targets, and 10 more could come close but just nearly miss the goal.

Still, even if the plan were to be implemented, it would need to be supplemented by other policies in order to cap emissions from other sources and sectors. While ambitious in the landscape of existing climate regulations, the CPP — fully implemented — would only have made a roughly 6 percent dent in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and the power sector as a whole accounts for just around 30 percent of U.S. emissions. Supporters of the plan also hoped that it could have an outsized, indirect impact on emissions, creating a market signal for electric utilities to prioritize renewable generation. Even though it may never be implemented, the CPP might also have helped solidify the Paris Agreement by showing at least a baseline of ambition from the U.S., the world’s second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

“I’m not one who believes in the miraculous powers of the Clean Power Plan,” Ireland told The Intercept. “It’s not perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction.” The CPP would allocate billions of dollars to helping coal communities transition off the fuel source through measures like grants and job training programs.

In West Virginia, a subsidiary of energy company FirstEnergy operating outside the state is looking to sell one of its coal-fired power plants to another FirstEnergy subsidiary within it, an electric utility. The deal would transfer the Pleasants Power Plant from an unregulated energy market — where it was unable to compete with other fuel sources — to West Virginia’s regulated market, essentially mandating that the state’s utility ratepayers foot the bill for a plant that has already proven uneconomical elsewhere. FirstEnergy made a similar move with the coal-fired Harrison Power Plant in 2013, which the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis found cost West Virginia ratepayers an additional $164 million between October 2013 and June 2016.

Emmett Pepper, executive director of Energy Efficient West Virginia, told The Intercept that while many people in his state remain skeptical about the idea of environmental protection, “there’s a growing willingness to recognize that regardless of what environmental regulations are out there, coal is getting more expensive and employment in the coal industry has been declining before environmental rules were put in place. I think people in Appalachia are starting to realize that we need to start thinking about additional ways to have economic development and economic activity.” West Virginia has lost 35 percent of its coal jobs between 2011 and 2016.

“While coal is going to continue to be part of the economy. I don’t think that anybody is under the illusion that it is going to be the main driver of the economy,” said Pepper, whose organization has not taken a stance on the CPP. “Whether or not the war on coal is a reality, we need to do something here to diversify our economy, because the coal jobs don’t seem to be coming back. We need new ways for people to make ends meet.”

EPA Hosts the Beginning of the End of the Clean Power Plan in Coal Country

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