The Pull of Energy Markets -- and Legal Challenges -- Will Blunt Plans to Roll Back EPA Carbon Rules

by Hannah Wiseman | October 17, 2017

Professor Hari Osofsky of Pennsylvania State University co-authored this article with Center for Progressive Reform Member Scholar and Florida State University College of Law Professor Hannah Wiseman. It originally appeared in The Conversation on October 13, 2017.

On Oct. 10, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt formally announced a repeal of the Clean Power Plan, regulation intended to curb greenhouse gas emissions from existing coal- and natural gas-fired power plants. 

This follows a directive only a week earlier by Energy Secretary Rick Perry for the the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to start a process to essentially subsidize coal and nuclear power plants. 

At first blush, these developments give the impression that the U.S. power sector is about to take a dramatic turn, and these decisions do indeed represent a significant shift in U.S. policy. But major changes on the ground are unlikely to happen overnight, or perhaps even in the next several years, for many reasons. Topping the list are legal challenges and simply the way competitive energy markets work. 

Headwinds from natural gas, wind and solar 

Legally, the Clean Power Plan repeal is already facing a challenge. The same day as its demise was announced, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman responded that he would lead a coalition of states and localities in a lawsuit defending the Clean Power Plan. 

Unless the Trump administration replaces the Clean Power Plan with something that addresses greenhouse emissions adequately, its decision is ...

Foreseeable Yet Lamentable: Pruitt's Attack on Carbon Restrictions

by Daniel Farber | October 10, 2017
An earlier version of this post appeared on Legal Planet. Few things were more foreseeable than the Trump administration's repeal of the Clean Power Plan (CPP). The administration was never going to leave in place a regulation that disfavored coal and promoted the use of renewable energy in electricity generation. The only real questions were when and how. Today, the administration is taking the first step with the release of a proposed rule repealing the CPP. EPA is relying wholly ...

News and Observer Op-ed: Trump Can Order, but Federal Judges Will Decide on Climate Rules

by Victor Flatt | April 03, 2017
This op-ed originally ran in the Raleigh News & Observer. President Trump's new "energy" executive order is an attempt to roll back Obama regulations on climate change, and even make considerations of climate change disappear from much of the policymaking process altogether. That's quite a lot to accomplish by executive order, and despite all the media attention he got for it, the president is eventually going to discover that he can't eradicate climate realities from federal consideration with the stroke ...

Trump's Executive Order on Climate Policy Rollbacks, Annotated

by Emily Hammond | March 29, 2017
Donald Trump's anti-climate action executive order is, as CPR President Rob Verchick puts it, a classic act of bullying. As I describe in an annotated version of the order, it is also irrational, failing to achieve the very aims it purports to support while inflicting damage to our climate, environment, natural resources, wildlife, and yes – even our coal miners.  In the annotation, I walk through each section of the order, providing an analysis and commentary on just what it ...

Sowing Confusion and Doubt, Trump Attempts Climate Policy Rollbacks

by Robert Verchick | March 28, 2017
Donald Trump has been in office only 68 days, and already I've passed the threshold from shock to boredom. His order to erase climate change from federal policy, preceded by a speech before captive members of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), only seals the deal. I served at the EPA during President Obama's first term, helping that agency and others prepare for the hazards of climate change. That work is serious and complicated and subtle. Trump, of course, is anything ...

Is Texas Cleaning Up Its Act?

by Daniel Farber | February 21, 2017
At a national meeting of state utility regulators, the head of the group recently said that the Clean Power Plan was basically dead, but this might not matter because "arguably, you're seeing market-based decarbonization" due to technological changes. Case in point: Texas. Market trends are pushing Republican stronghold Texas toward a cleaner grid. ERCOT, which operates nearly all of the state's grid, recently projected that in the next fifteen years, Texas will add almost 20 gigawatts of solar, equivalent to 15-20 ...

Trump Can't Sweep Safeguards Away as Easily as He May Think

by Matthew Freeman | December 09, 2016
In a statement Wednesday responding to President-elect Trump’s choice of climate change denier Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, CPR President Robert Verchick said that the choice was “a clear indication that the administration plans a full-throated assault on environmental protections.” In an op-ed in The New York Times this morning, CPR Member Scholar William Buzbee describes some of the challenges Pruitt and Trump will face as they undertake that regressive effort to unravel the fabric of rules ...

With or Without the Clean Power Plan, It's Up to the States to Transition to Clean Energy

by Alice Kaswan | December 05, 2016
Environmentalists are understandably wringing their hands over the likely post-election demise of the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration's rule to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, which are the nation's single biggest source of carbon emissions. But, with or without the Clean Power Plan (the Plan), the states hold the cards to a clean energy transition.  Even if the fossil fuel interests intent upon perpetuating a profitable status quo end up dominating Congress and federal energy and environmental ...

Untapped Potential: Emissions Reduction Initiatives Beyond Clean Power Plan Are Warranted, Workable

by Alice Kaswan | October 27, 2016
It's been a month since the D.C. Circuit heard oral arguments on the Clean Power Plan, and the nation is in wait-and-see mode. But our report, Untapped Potential: The Carbon Reductions Left Out of EPA's Clean Power Plan, released today by the Center for Progressive Reform, shows that, even if the Plan is upheld, continued climate initiatives to control existing power plant emissions are warranted and workable. Our analysis demonstrates that EPA identified numerous available reduction opportunities that were not ...

'Super Polluters' Under the Microscope

by Matthew Freeman | September 30, 2016
In a story published yesterday, the Center for Public Integrity takes a deep dive into the public health impact of the nation’s “super polluters,” a collection of industrial polluters that account for an outsized share of toxic air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Produced in collaboration with USA Today and The Weather Channel, the story focuses in on Evansville, Indiana, a city of 120,000 nestled in the southwest corner of the state and ringed by no ...

Federalism Games in the Clean Power Plan Battle

by William Buzbee | September 23, 2016
Next Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will hear four hours of argument over the Clean Power Plan (CPP). Federalism-linked statutory, regulatory, and doctrinal law has been and will be crucial to the CPP's fate, and several issues of federalism will play a key role. In designing the CPP, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency built on states' actions in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in recent years through use of GHG trading regimes, and nudging or ...

The Role of the Clean Air Act's Goals in Clean Power Plan Litigation

by David Driesen | September 08, 2016
The Clean Power Plan has been widely touted as significant because it regulates the largest source of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the United States – the electric power industry. Its significance, however, goes beyond U.S. CO2 emissions because it serves as the linchpin of international efforts to reduce greenhouse gases in order to avoid dangerous climate disruption. The rule gave the Obama administration sufficient credibility to persuade the Chinese to pledge limits on their own greenhouse gas emissions for ...

The Clean Power Plan: Unpacking the Generation Shifting Issue

by David Driesen | September 08, 2016
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) Clean Power Plan (CPP) relies, in part, on a pollution reduction strategy – generation shifting – that is at issue in the ongoing lawsuit over the rule. Generation shifting involves increasing use of relatively clean natural gas and renewable energy and reducing use of relatively dirty and expensive coal-fired power plants. Although the technique has lowered power plant emissions significantly in recent years, opponents of the CPP have argued in legal briefs that section ...

The Clean Power Plan: Achieving Clean Air Act Goals with Flexibility and Cleaner Energy

by Hannah Wiseman | July 13, 2016
When Congress extensively amended the Clean Air Act in 1970 to form the air pollution laws that we know today, it spoke in no uncertain terms about the breadth of federal authority in this area while also centrally involving states in the effort to clean up the nation's air. Congress directed the EPA Administrator to list the pollutants "which in his judgment" have "an adverse effect on public health and welfare" and are generated from "numerous or diverse" sources – ...

NEPA and Climate Change: Another Basis for Defending the Clean Power Plan

by Joel Mintz | May 26, 2016
The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Power Plan – the agency's bold attempt to use the Clean Air Act to protect our health and the environment by regulating greenhouse gas emissions from new and existing power plants – has been challenged in court by some 28 states, 205 members of Congress, electric utilities, coal companies and other industries, some labor unions, and a few conservative, nonprofit law firms. In response, EPA's rule has been defended by the agency itself, 18 ...

The Clean Power Plan: Continuing Momentum after the Supreme Court’s Stay

by Alice Kaswan | February 10, 2016
The Supreme Court’s February 9 stay of the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan may have removed the states’ immediate compliance obligations, and it will undoubtedly remove some pressure for action in states resistant to change.  Nonetheless, the extensive data and fundamental state and regional planning processes generated by the Clean Power Plan (the Plan) may continue to bear fruit even as the Plan remains in legal limbo. The Clean Power Plan has already triggered progress.  To determine feasible reductions on ...

Supreme Court Stays Clean Power Plan

by Victor Flatt | February 10, 2016
In a surprising moves to legal experts, the Supreme Court yesterday in a 5-4 ruling stayed the implementation of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) supporting greenhouse gas reductions at fossil fuel fired power plants.  The move was surprising because the Supreme Court rarely involves itself in the determinations of whether or not a temporary stay of legal implications is warranted, largely leaving that to lower courts.  The D.C. Circuit, two weeks ago, refused to grant a stay, meaning that ...

President Obama’s Progressive Vision for the Future

by Thomas McGarity | January 13, 2016
President Obama devoted his final state-of-the-union speech to highlighting his administration’s considerable accomplishments, and, more importantly, to articulating a surprisingly robust progressive vision for the future. And that vision properly included a large role for federal regulation.  Noting that “reckless Wall Street,” not food stamp recipients, caused the financial meltdown of 2008-09, the President predicted, “working families won’t get more opportunity or bigger paychecks by letting big banks or big oil or hedge funds make their own rules at the ...

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