Senate Majority Leader says Congress could block Clean Power Plan

By Paul Cimapoli, News Director, American Public Power Association
From the May 7, 2015 issue of Public Power Daily

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., recently said that Congress could utilize a section of the Clean Air Act to block the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants.

McConnell made his remarks at an April 29 hearing to review the Fiscal Year 2016 funding request and budget justification for the EPA. The hearing was held by the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy appeared before the subcommittee at the hearing.

The EPA’s Clean Power Plan was proposed by the agency in June 2014. It would require states to cut carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants from 2005 levels by 30 percent by 2030. Under the EPA’s proposal, states would be required to submit state plans to the EPA in 2016 and to begin to meet interim goals in 2020.

McConnell said that one of McCarthy’s deputies recently told the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission “that multi-state plans are a significant part of your strategy.”

In comments to McCarthy, the Senate majority leader said, “I’d like to acquaint you” with Section 102(c) of the Clean Air Act, which he said requires Congressional consent for cooperative agreements. McConnell said that the law states that no such agreement “or compact shall be binding or obligatory” upon any state “unless and until” it has been approved by Congress. “Doesn’t seem ambivalent to me,” McConnell said.

“I can assure you that as long as I’m majority leader of the Senate, this body’s not going to be signing off on any backdoor energy tax,” McConnell said.

It remains unclear whether Section 102(c) of the Clean Air Act could be used to block multi-state agreements.

In March, McConnell wrote a letter to the nation’s governors in which he urged them to “carefully review the consequences before signing up for this deeply misguided plan. I believe you will find, as I have, that the EPA’s proposal goes far beyond its legal authority and that the courts are likely to strike it down. All of which raises the very important question of why the EPA is asking states at this time to propose their own compliance plans in the first place.”

Senate committee examines legal implications of EPA plan

Meanwhile, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee on May 5 held a hearing to examine the legal implications of the Clean Power Plan.

In her opening remarks, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W. Va., who chairs the subcommittee, said that many states “have raised grave concerns about the legality of the rule and the implications for their citizens and ratepayers. In addition to significant Constitutional and other legal questions, states have expressed concerns about the feasibility of EPA’s proposed requirements and the likely impacts on electricity costs and reliability.”

Capito said that next week “I will be introducing greenhouse gas legislation with my colleagues that will preserve the proper balance of state and federal authority, help ensure reliable and affordable electricity, and protect jobs and our economy.”

Witnesses at the hearing included West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. In his prepared testimony, Morrisey noted that West Virginia is one of 15 states involved in a lawsuit before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The legal action targets EPA’s authority to issue any rule regulating existing power plants under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act when EPA has already regulated the same source category under Section 112 of the act.

“If this administration elects to finalize this rule, West Virginia will challenge it in court and we expect that the coalition of 15 states that we’re currently working with will grow,” the West Virginia attorney general said.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt told the hearing that the EPA “does not possess the authority under the Clean Air Act to do what it is seeking to accomplish in the so-called Clean Power Plan.”

He said that the EPA, “under this administration, treats states like a vessel of federal will. The EPA believes states exist to implement the policies the Administration sees fit, regardless of whether laws like the Clean Air Act permit such action.”

Pruitt said that the Clean Air Act “hinges on ‘cooperative federalism’ by giving states the primary responsibility and role for regulation while providing a federal backstop if the states should fail to act.”

When the EPA “respects the role of the states, the cooperative relationship works well. When the EPA exceeds the constraints placed upon the agency by Congress, the relationship is thrown out of balance and the rule of law and state sovereignty is affected adversely,” the Oklahoma attorney general said.

The Clean Power Plan proposal “throws the cooperative relationship between the states and the federal government off balance,” he said.

Other witnesses at the hearing were Roger Martella, Jr., a partner at Sidley Austin LLP, Kelly Speakes-Backman, commissioner of the Maryland Public Service Commission and Chair of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, Inc. Board of Directors and Lisa Heinzerling, Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center.

In her written testimony submitted for the hearing, Speakes-Backman argued that the basic structure of EPA’s proposed rule is sound, “although the RGGI states recommend that EPA adopt certain revisions to ensure that early action is recognized, and that the state targets are verifiable, transparent, equitable, and enforceable.”

She also said in the written testimony that the RGGI states “have demonstrated that it is possible to achieve cost-effective pollution reductions while maintaining grid reliability, and while having a positive impact on ratepayers and our overall economies.”

RGGI is a regional carbon dioxide emissions program launched in January 2009. It was the first market-based regulatory program in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The cooperative effort is mandatory in the participating states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Speakes-Backman addressed some of the key lessons learned from the RGGI that can be applied to implementing EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan in an exclusive interview published in Public Power Weekly in late 2014.

On the other side of Capitol Hill, the House Energy and Commerce Committee on April 29 approved legislation that would allow for judicial review of any final EPA rule to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act before the rule could take effect.

FERC commissioner discusses Clean Power Plan

Colette Honorable, a FERC commissioner, on May 5 discussed the Clean Power Plan in remarks before an audience of energy attorneys in Washington, DC.

“I’d like to talk with you very briefly about a few of my priorities as I see them in my first” four months at FERC, she said at the Energy Bar Association’s annual meeting and conference. Honorable was sworn in on Jan. 5 as a commissioner with FERC.

“Clearly, job number one for me is reliability,” Honorable told the gathering of energy attorneys. During a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing in December related to her nomination as a FERC commissioner, Honorable said that electric reliability would be a top priority for her at the federal agency.

In her remarks before the Energy Bar Association meeting, she noted that the EPA is in the final stages of issuing the final rule under the agency’s Clean Power Plan. “EPA has sought advice and counsel from the FERC and I am eager to give that,” she said.
With respect to the Clean Power Plan, there are a “few issues that really rise to the top for me,” she said.

“One, clearly, is the reliability safety valve issue and the notion of developing some sort of a reliability mechanism that could be employed,” Honorable said.

Honorable said that “another takeaway for me” involves the “importance of collaboration and cooperation.” She said, “We really won’t get very far if we don’t work well together.” Honorable noted that she has “often said, no matter what you think about this plan, we absolutely are going to get a plan this summer – mid to late summer.”

She said that it “behooves all of us to prepare and do the work we do so well day in and day out to contemplate the possibilities, the scenarios, the plans and what we will do” if the rule is upheld.

“If we wait and do nothing, in my opinion, we’ve lost an opportunity,” she said.

Honorable also highlighted the “importance of the regions and the regional efforts that are underway.”

EPA releases Clean Power Plan to cut emissions from power plants

WASHINGTON – At the direction of President Obama and after an unprecedented outreach effort, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is today releasing the Clean Power Plan proposal, which for the first time cuts carbon pollution from existing power plants, the single largest source of carbon pollution in the United States.Today’s proposal will protect public health, move the United States toward a cleaner environment and fight climate change while supplying Americans with reliable and affordable power.

“Climate change, fueled by carbon pollution, supercharges risks to our health, our economy, and our way of life. EPA is delivering on a vital piece of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan by proposing a Clean Power Plan that will cut harmful carbon pollution from our largest source–power plants,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “By leveraging cleaner energy sources and cutting energy waste, this plan will clean the air we breathe while helping slow climate change so we can leave a safe and healthy future for our kids. We don’t have to choose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment–our action will sharpen America’s competitive edge, spur innovation, and create jobs.”

Power plants account for roughly one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. While there are limits in place for the level of arsenic, mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particle pollution that power plants can emit, there are currently no national limits on carbon pollution levels.

With the Clean Power Plan, EPA is proposing guidelines that build on trends already underway in states and the power sector to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants, making them more efficient and less polluting. This proposal follows through on the common-sense steps laid out in President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and the June 2013 Presidential Memorandum.

By 2030, the steady and responsible steps EPA is taking will:

  • Cut carbon emission from the power sector by 30 percent nationwide below 2005 levels, which is equal to the emissions from powering more than half the homes in the United States for one year;
  • Cut particle pollution, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide by more than 25 percent as a co-benefit;
  • Avoid up to 6,600 premature deaths, up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children, and up to 490,000 missed work or school days—providing up to $93 billion in climate and public health benefits; and
  • Shrink electricity bills roughly 8 percent by increasing energy efficiency and reducing demand in the electricity system.

The Clean Power Plan will be implemented through a state-federal partnership under which states identify a path forward using either current or new electricity production and pollution control policies to meet the goals of the proposed program. The proposal provides guidelines for states to develop plans to meet state-specific goals to reduce carbon pollution and gives them the flexibility to design a program that makes the most sense for their unique situation. States can choose the right mix of generation using diverse fuels, energy efficiency and demand-side management to meet the goals and their own needs. It allows them to work alone to develop individual plans or to work together with other states to develop multi-state plans.

Also included in today’s proposal is a flexible timeline for states to follow for submitting plans to the agency—with plans due in June 2016, with the option to use a two-step process for submitting final plans if more time is needed. States that have already invested in energy efficiency programs will be able to build on these programs during the compliance period to help make progress toward meeting their goal.

Since last summer, EPA has directly engaged with state, tribal, and local governments, industry and labor leaders, non-profits, and others. The data, information and feedback provided during this effort helped guide the development of the proposal and further confirmed that states have been leading the way for years in saving families and businesses money through improving efficiency, while cleaning up pollution from power plants. To date, 47 states have utilities that run demand-side energy efficiency programs, 38 have renewable portfolio standards or goals, and 10 have market-based greenhouse gas emissions programs. Together, the agency believes that these programs represent a proven, common-sense approach to cutting carbon pollution—one in which electricity is generated and used as efficiently as possible and which promotes a greater reliance on lower-carbon power sources.

Today’s announcement marks the beginning of the second phase of the agency’s outreach efforts. EPA will accept comment on the proposal for 120 days after publication in the Federal Register and will hold four public hearings on the proposed Clean Power Plan during the week of July 28 in the following cities: Denver, Atlanta, Washington, DC and Pittsburgh. Based on this input, EPA will finalize standards next June following the schedule laid out in the June 2013 Presidential Memorandum.

In 2009, EPA determined that greenhouse gas pollution threatens Americans’ health and welfare by leading to long lasting changes in our climate that can have a range of negative effects on human health and the environment. Taking steady, responsible steps to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants will protect children’s health and will move our nation toward a cleaner, more stable environment for future generations, while supplying the reliable, affordable power needed for economic growth.

Fact sheets and details about the proposed rule available at:
http://www.epa.gov/cleanpowerplan

More information on President Obama’s Climate Action Plan: http://www.whitehouse.gov/climate-change

Video on today’s announcement from Administrator Gina McCarthy: http://www.epa.gov/