Don’t Know What the Clean Power Plan Is? Let’s Fix That

The Clean Power Plan may be the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s plan to combat climate change, but most Americans don’t know much about it, according to a survey released this week by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation. Almost 70 percent of respondents said they’d heard “little or nothing” about the regulation, which means they’ve missed out on the more than 700 stories we’ve published on the Clean Power Plan over the past two years.

Here’s a high-level overview of what you need to know about this major EPA initiative, as well as some links to past coverage if you want to go down a wonky climate rabbit hole.

What Would It Do?

 Simply put, the Clean Power Plan is an attempt by the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from U.S. power plants as part of a larger goal to combat climate change. The agency projects that once fully implemented in 2030, power sector emissions of carbon dioxide will be 32 percent lower than they were in 2005.

The Clean Power Plan is a key factor in the U.S.’s ability to meets its commitments under the Paris Agreement, a historic international agreement to combat climate change. Under that agreement, the U.S. pledged to cut its overall greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent to 28 percent by 2025, compared to 2005 levels. The U.S. formally signed onto the Paris Agreement in April, and the Obama administration’s top climate negotiator told Bloomberg BNA’s Dean Scott that it is possible that enough countries could sign on for the deal to go into effect before then end of 2016 in Paris Pact May Even Take Effect in 2016, U.S. Envoy Says.

How Does It Do It?

The Clean Power Plan set emissions rate targets for 48 states (Alaska and Hawaii are exempt) to be met through a phase-in period that runs from 2022-2030. While states are allowed to come up with their own individual plans to meet those emissions rate targets, the EPA suggested three “building blocks” to help cut power sector emissions: heat rate improvements at existing plants, expanded use of power plants fueled by natural gas (which is more climate-friendly than burning coal), and investment in new renewable energy (ie: solar, wind).

For more details on the specifics of the rule, check out this story from Andrew Childers, Clean Power Plan Grants States More Time, Autonomy.

coal fired power plant

(Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg)

2022? What’s Going On With It Now?

Since each state got its own emissions rate target under the Clean Power Plan, the EPA gave states time to work on their own plans for how to meet that goal. However, in February, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay of the rule, which effectively froze any obligations that states had under the Clean Power Plan until litigation is resolved, which could take years.

Litigation? Who is Suing?

The Clean Power Plan is being challenged by a number of states (including West Virginia and Texas), utilities and industry groups. They argue that the EPA acted outside its authority by issuing a regulation that would transform the nation’s power sector. A coalition of 200 lawmakers, including Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), told a federal appeals court in February that Congress has not authorized the EPA to transform the power sector in the way envisioned by the CleanPowerPlan. Read more in this story from Andrew, 200 Lawmakers Say EPA Carbon Plan Oversteps Authority.

The Clean Power Plan is being supported by numerous Democratic lawmakers, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, environmental and public health organizations that support climate action and even major corporations like Google and Apple. For more on their arguments in support of the EPA, check out this story from Andrew, Clean Power Plan Supporters Back EPA's Authority.

If The Supreme Court Stayed the Rule, That’s Bad for EPA’s Chances, Right?

It originally looked that way, given that the Supreme Court decided to stay the Clean Power Plan in a 5-4 vote. However, less than a week after the court issued the stay, Justice Antonin Scalia, who voted in favor of the stay, passed away. Attorneys and legal scholars predicted that Scalia’s passing improved the odds that the Clean Power Plan would ultimately be upheld.

For more on that, check out this story by Anthony Adragna, Observers: Without Scalia, Clean Power Plan's Odds Boosted.

Sure All This Information Is Great, But What Does Trump Think About It?

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, in a March survey released by the American Energy Alliance, promised that he would review all EPA rules, including the Clean Power Plan, for possible elimination if he were to be elected. Trump, when asked if the carbon dioxide limits exceeded the EPA’s authority, said the Obama administration had “committed an overreach that punishes rather than helps Americans.”

Outside of that survey, Trump has largely avoided in-depth discussions on specific environmental policies. Check out this story from Anthony on how Trump is seen as a “total wild card” on the environment in President Trump Seen as ‘Complete Wild Card' for Environment.