Keep Clean Power Plan to Cut Climate Change & Save Lives

Donald Trump's and Scott Pruitt's Environmental Protection Agency has proposed repealing the Clean Power Plan, the nation's first limits on the carbon pollution from power plants that drives dangerous climate change Here are the remarks I'll give Tuesday afternoon at the only public hearing the agency has scheduled, in Charleston, West Virginia.

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed repealing the Clean Power Plan, the nation's first limits on the carbon pollution from power plants that drives dangerous climate change. Here are the remarks I'll give Tuesday afternoon at the only public hearing the agency has scheduled, in Charleston, West Virginia.  

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. On behalf of NRDC’s three million members and supporters—some of whom are here to testify today—I want to register our strong opposition to the proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan. 

As this hearing demonstrates, there are citizens of West Virginia and nearby states who support the Clean Power Plan, and those who oppose it. I believe there is a way forward that both sides can come together to support. 

Too many political leaders seek to divide us. But we reject the divisive premise that we must choose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment. 

We can have both. We can—and we mustprotect Americans’ health and preserve the stability of our climate. As the four hurricanes and massive wildfires this fall demonstrate, we must clean up our power plantsas well as our vehicles and other industriesto curb the pollution that’s driving extreme weather and other climate impacts and causing thousands of deaths and illnessesboth here in West Virginia, in states downwind, and across the country. 

This year and the last two years have been the hottest on record. The National Climate Assessment—just released by the Trump administration—concluded that the present period “is now the warmest in the history of modern civilization.” The report concludes: 

[I]t is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.

As Regulatory Impact Analysis for the EPA repeal proposal itself acknowledges (p.123), repealing the Clean Power Plan could result in up to 4,500 more premature deaths each year by 2030, due to the extra soot and smog pollution from allowing power plants to continue emitting high levels of sulfur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen.

These grave threats to our health and well-being are not going away. They are only getting worse. We cannot hide from them.

At the same time, we can—and we must—help all Americans in all regions of this country share in the opportunities of the 21st century economy. America owes it to coal country to help the men and women of West Virginia share in these opportunities. 

Many politicians want to blame the Clean Power Plan and other necessary clean air protections for every ill that West Virginia, and its coal industry, is suffering. But the truth is that the decline of coal is overwhelmingly due to market forces, not clean air protections.  

Changes in the power sector, particularly the significant decline in the price of natural gas, and the cost of wind and solar generation, have led to the decline in coal consumption. And our homes, commercial, and industrial buildings, and electricity-using equipment are increasingly efficient, lowering—in many places, flattening—consumption of electricity. 

And the decline of coal mining jobs is due mainly to mine owners’ automation of the mines.

Mine owners want you to blame someone else when they choose machines over miners, and when they can’t compete.

Mine owners and politicians who “dig coal” are not bringing those jobs back. Killing the Clean Power Plan won’t bring them back. 

Clean energy is one of the fastest growing segments of our economy. Three times as many Americans work in clean energy as in coal, oil, and gas. At the same time, we recognize that this economic opportunity isn’t equally spread across our country. 

So let’s invest in coal country to fix that. 

Rather than shutting down the Appalachian Regional Commission, as the President’s budget proposes, we should be dramatically expanding the infrastructure, development, worker training, and other investments that can help this region. 

Alongside NRDC’s support for the Clean Power Plan, we supported the previous administration’s POWER+ Plan, which proposed “more than $9 billion of investment to support economic diversification in coal communities; employment and training services for workers displaced from the coal economy; the health and retirement security of coal miners and their families; the reclamation and redevelopment of abandoned mine lands; and the deployment of carbon capture and sequestration technology.”

I’ll bet few people here know about the POWER+ proposal. That’s because Congressional leaders ignored it, preferring to use people of this region as political pawns. 

If the Trump administration and Congressional leaders advance similar investment plans today, along with necessary climate and clean air protections, they will have our full support.

NRDC has also long supported investment in carbon capture and storage, which is the only way that use of coal and other fossil fuels can continue over the long-term in a carbon-constrained world.

You’ll hear lots of exaggeration today about the supposed economic impact of the Clean Power Plan. In fact, it would be inexpensive to achieve because the power sector is already investing in cleaner energy much faster than EPA assessed a few years ago. 

Look at Appalachian Power’s Integrated Resource PlanWith or without the Clean Power Plan, Appalachian Power is investing in wind, solar, battery storage, and energy efficiency over the next 15 years, and gradually moving away from the company’s aging and increasingly expensive coal facilities. And Appalachian Power is not alone. Many utility and energy companies are doing the same.

So let’s not let politicians use the economic concerns of West Virginians as an excuse to deny the damages that climate change is already imposing on the hurricane-ravaged areas of Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico, the fire-ravaged areas of the West. And to deny the death and illness that power plant pollution is imposing, day-in-and day-out, on the children and the seniors, who live here in West Virginia, as well as in the states downwind. 

We have a moral obligation to take care of all Americans. 

Now, some brief words on the fundamental legal flaws in the proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan. NRDC will have much more to say in written comments.

In the proposal, the EPA misinterprets the Clean Air Act, misrepresents how power plants operate in the real world, and cooks the books on science and economics. 

The current Administrator frequently says he wants to provide regulatory certainty. But the proposed repeal will only magnify industry’s regulatory uncertainty. If Administrator Pruitt finalizes this proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan, he will be in clear violation of the Clean Air Act. 

The repeal proposal imagines non-existent legal restrictions on EPA’s authority to adopt emission limits that apply to individual power plants. It ignores EPA’s authority and responsibility to issue standards that effectively and economically reduce power plants’ carbon dioxide emissions. 

The proposed repeal rejects common-sense regulatory tools that EPA and states have used for more than three decades, that reflect how power plants actually operate, and that are broadly supported by the power industry.

The proposal cooks the books on science and economics by inflating the true costs of compliance with the Clean Power Plan, and by perverting the science establishing the dangers from power plants’ multiple dangerous pollutants.

Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act requires the Administrator to establish emission guidelines that set performance standards for existing power plants that reflect the pollution reductions achievable using the “best system of emission reduction,” taking into account costs and other enumerated factors. The goal of this provision, like that of many other Clean Air Act provisions, is to reduce dangerous air pollution as effectively as possible at reasonable cost. 

EPA has long recognized fundamental characteristics of the power sector that differ from most other categories of industrial sources. Unlike most other types of industrial sources, power plants are interconnected through the electric grid, and they are operated interdependently to supply the specific overall amount of electricity demanded by users across that grid from moment to moment. All kinds of power generators—both pollution-emitting and pollution-free—contribute to the generation mix. When one plant operates more, another operates less. No other industrial category of air pollution exhibits these characteristics.

With broad industry support, over the last 30 years EPA and states have also developed and employed market-based tools, including emission reduction credits and emission allowance systems that fit the way power companies operate to efficiently regulate pollution plant pollution.

The Clean Power Plan recognizes that these characteristics of the power sector and these regulatory tools must be taken into account interpreting the statutory terms “best system of emission reduction” and in determining the emission levels that individual power plants can meet at reasonable cost. 

The Clean Power Plan’s central regulatory requirement is a carbon dioxide emission limit for each individual coal- or gas-fired power plant, which that plant can choose to meet at reasonable cost by a combination of measures—by adding technology or switching fuels at the plant itself, or by using emission credits generated by the operation of other, lower-emitting plants on the interconnected grid.

That definition of “best system of emission reduction” accomplishes more emission reductions, at lower cost, and with more flexibility for plant owners and operators, than is possible under the Administrator’s proposed reinterpretation. The Administrator wants to lock the agency into an interpretation that produces the same emission reductions only at much higher cost and less flexibility, or that produces little or no emission reductions within the same cost range.

That’s a strange result. And it places a high burden on the Administrator now to show hard legal obstacles that require this constricted, expensive, ineffective approach. Why is it reasonable to adopt this interpretation when the Clean Power Plan alternative that he wants to reject comports with power industry realities, follows long-established regulatory approaches developed for that industry, and produces more pollution reduction at lower cost?

We’ll have much more to say in written comments. But for now, let me say that there are no such hard legal obstacles in Section 111 of the Act.

  • Nothing in the terms “applicable to” or “at” a source compels the proposed constricted interpretation. The Clean Power Plan’s emission limits applied to and were achievable by each individual source using the combination of technology, fuels, and emission credits made available for compliance.
  • Nothing in the terms “best system of emission reduction” compel the proposed interpretation. Contrary to the proposal, these terms do not limit standards to in-plant technology and fuels choices only. Credit systems have been used for decades. The Supreme Court specifically approved emissions standards that incorporated a credit system to achieve significant emission reductions under the similar statutory language of Section 110 in EPA v. EME Homer City Generation, 134 S. Ct. 1584 (2014).
  • Nothing in the Act’s definitions supports the proposal’s distinction between a power plant and its owner or operator, who is by law responsible for the power plant’s compliance.
  • Section 111(d) clearly provides for EPA to determine the level of reductions that a “satisfactory” state plan must achieve.
  • There is no judicial requirement for a clearer statement of authority than the Clean Air Act already provides.

The Administrator’s proposed cramped interpretation of these terms, and his plainly expressed intention to consider only do-nothing replacement standards, is neither compelled by the Act, nor a reasonable interpretation of it. In short, the rule of law does not permit his interpretation. It requires more. It requires at least what is represented by the current Clean Power Plan. 

I will close by saying that the people of West Virginia deserve to be heard, as they are being heard now. And so do people in other parts of this country affected by climate change and power plant pollution. EPA held four hearings across the country when creating the Clean Power Plan. Thousands of Americans participated in the hearings, and more than four million filed overwhelmingly supportive comments. 

One public hearing to consider repealing the Plan is utterly inadequate and disrespectful to the millions of Americans who have a vital stake in this decision. So NRDC reiterates our call for EPA to hold a robust series of hearings in other places around the nation that are suffering the impacts of climate change and of power plant pollution, and to extend the comment period at least the minimum required 30 days past the end of such additional hearings.