Viewpoint: Clean Power Plan will have minimal impact on global warming
Here’s all you need to know about the Clean Power Plan (CPP) and its goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from electric generators in one sentence. The CPP is illegal, is another sign of our divided country, it wouldn’t have a discernible impact on global warming, and the emission goals will probably be met without it.
Governments have granted territorial monopolies to companies that run the electric grid because it doesn’t make sense to duplicate the incredible investment needed for competition. To protect consumers from these monopolies in-state oversight has historically rested with individual state public utility commissions. Federal law created the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to oversee the interstate power grid. These organizations routinely balance price, reliability and environmental concerns.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), guided by an executive order from President Obama, tried to take control of the entire electric grid with the CPP. Their singular purpose was to reduce carbon dioxide emissions with little care for electricity cost or reliability.
The EPA based the regulation on an obscure section of the Clean Air Act that was supposed to regulate individual power plants in rare cases when other sections didn’t work. This section had only been narrowly used four times. The section became the basis for not only regulating every power plant in the country, but also to force states to adopt carbon taxes, and to replace reliable base load power with expensive, intermittent wind and solar power.
Legal challenges based on the misuse of the Clean Air Act went as high as the Supreme Court, which granted a stay in implementing the CPP based on the apparent validity of the legal arguments. Those challenges will continue for years, but with the current makeup of the Supreme Court, the CPP will likely be found illegal.
President Trump wrote an executive order requiring the EPA to review the legality of the CPP. The EPA found it should be repealed. The EPA will follow the required procedures to repeal the regulation and the task will probably not be complete until sometime in 2018.
The lawsuit against the CPP is supported by 27 states most of which were won by President Trump, and is opposed by 18 states most of which were won by Hillary Clinton. This is very much a red state versus blue state issue.
The states supporting the lawsuit against the CPP actually had more success reducing carbon dioxide emissions than the states opposing the lawsuit. According to U.S. Energy Information Agency emission reports, and U.S. Census population reports for 2007 and 2015, these states reduced emissions 1.8 times faster per person.
The 18 states supporting the CPP have already implemented most of the requirements in the plan. Those states consume 4 percent more power than they generate, thus count on other states for electric generation. In effect, the states for the CPP exported 23 million metric tons of emissions to other states. The same states paid almost 4 cents per kilowatt-hour more for electricity, or 41 percent. The states supporting the CPP, including Delaware, want to force the rest of the country to adopt the same losing policies. I guess misery loves company.
An argument might be made the misery is worth it if for the right environmental benefits, but the CPP doesn’t deliver. The EPA developed a calculator to determine how incremental emission changes would impact global temperatures in the year 2100. The CPP goal is to reduce electric grid emissions by 32 percent between 2005 and 2030. That would only reduce global warming by 0.2 degrees centigrade, an amount that cannot be reliably measured.
The U.S. Energy Information Agency just released national electric grid emissions data for 2016. Emissions are down 25 percent compared to a 22 percent reduction goal for 2020 in the CPP, and a 28 percent goal by 2025. The emission goals will likely be met without the CPP.
David T. Stevenson is director of the Center for Energy Competitiveness at the Caesar Rodney Institute and served on the Presidential EPA Transition Team.