ALEC's latest attack on the Clean Power Plan is fizzling

Most state legislatures are now in full swing and, as expected, polluters are pushing legislative attacks to hinder action on climate change. Bills aiming to obstruct the EPA's Clean Power Plan, which will set the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants, have already emerged in more than a dozen states including Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. It doesn't take much digging to discover that coal industry lobbyists and the climate-denying American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are behind these attacks. ALEC members Peabody Coal and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity are key drivers of the coal industry's strategy to prompt state legislation to block progress on climate change.

Sensible legislators, citizen groups, and utility companies will likely succeed in neutralizing these ALEC bills. In just the first few weeks of the state legislative sessions, we're already seeing bills fizzle in various ways:

  • Last week, a Montana legislator withdrew his own ALEC-style legislation on the Clean Power Plan, citing that "the folks that requested [this bill] decided they didn't want it anymore." He did not elaborate about which "folks" made the initial request, but I have some guesses. (Hear his quote on the Senate Energy Committee webpage, Feb 10, 2015 at min 16:27)
  • Two weeks ago, a pair of Mississippi bills aiming to delay Clean Power Plan implementation died in committee, after the director of Mississippi's environmental agency asked lawmakers not to interfere.
  • In Virginia, legislators introduced a flurry of bills attacking the Clean Power Plan, but the only legislation to survive a Senate vote is fairly innocuous. Although not yet through the House, currently the Senate bill simply requires the environmental agency to consider a range of options for its state pollution plan. [UPDATE 3/2/15: after passing the VA House, the bill ultimately died in conference committee]

The legislative attacks on the Clean Power Plan are failing in part because citizen groups are standing up to ALEC and the coal industry. More than 100 groups recently sent a joint letter asking legislators to disassociate with ALEC due to its climate denial.

State agencies and utilities are also averse to ALEC's legislative obstacles to the Clean Power Plan. During the 45 year history of the Clean Air Act, state agencies have routinely designed and implemented pollution reduction plans to meet federal clean air standards, with input from key stakeholders. In an attempt to stymie this process, ALEC's environmental task force approved model bill language last December to create new roadblocks and red tape to obstruct adoption of state plans. ALEC's model bill would require a state agency to obtain a legislative vote of approval before the state's pollution plan could be submitted to EPA. Legislative approval -- not required for state plans over the last 45 years -- presents an opportunity for political manipulation or outright obstruction at the behest of the coal industry.

ALEC's efforts are ironically cloaked in rhetoric about state empowerment, but actually these bills put states at risk of surrendering control. If the state doesn't submit a plan on time, the Clean Air Act obligates EPA to issue a federal plan that requires power plants to make the necessary pollution cuts. Even though a federal plan would be cost-effective, state agencies are in the best position to develop their own pollution reduction plans. Since the Clean Power Plan allows ample flexibility for states, most agencies and utilities want lawmakers to stay clear of the process.

The ALEC and coal industry's legislative strategy fell flat last year for the same reasons -- of the seven bills enacted in 2014 that aimed to obstruct state implementation of the Clean Power Plan, only Kentucky's HB 388 actually blocks the state from submitting an adequate plan. Every other state, including West Virginia, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Pennsylvania, watered down its legislation so that it allows state agencies to submit plans to EPA.

We expect ALEC's latest strategy to block climate action to fizzle this year as well.