New NRDC Analysis: Electric Sector on Track to Meet Clean Power Plan

The U.S. electric sector is on track to meet the Clean Power Plan, according to a new NRDC analysis released yesterday. The report demonstrates again that the power sector is rapidly moving to cleaner generation and greater energy efficiency. The power sector’s carbon pollution is coming down as a result.  Making sure these trends continue is critical to avoiding the worst impacts of dangerous climate change.

The clean energy transition has many drivers, as my colleague Starla Yeh explains. In the near-term, it’s being driven by fundamental market forces, smart state and federal policies and company planning, and Congress’s five-year extension of federal wind and solar tax incentives late last year. The Clean Power Plan will pick up the ball in 2022 as the tax credits expire. 

Because of these trends, the power sector will be well-positioned to meet the Clean Power Plan’s carbon pollution limits in 2022 and beyond. 

Smart power companies—including some of the most traditionally coal-dependent companies—are already making big changes. According to an SNL Energy report on May 17th, US coal consumption for electricity declined 31 percent between 2008 and 2015.  Southern Company’s coal burn is down 49 percent over this period, and its carbon pollution is down 20 percent. 

Contrast this picture with the recent claims of the Clean Power Plan’s foes. In court papers just a few months ago, they claimed the Clean Power Plan was the root cause of their woes, and that a stay would protect them against the clean energy transition.  

Only a few days after the Supreme Court’s stay order, major power industry voices were telling a different story.

In February, Quin Shea, vice president for environment at the Edison Electric Institute, told Wall Street analysts that the stay “doesn't really change anything.”  As reported in Energywire, Shea said: “We're still reducing CO2, and the general curve, that's not going to change” because of the stay.  “You don't simply put the genie back in the bottle when it comes to major strategic investments that the captains of industry are making.”

Just last week, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey admitted on E&ETV that quite apart from regulatory pressures, “the marketplace was moving in a particular direction.”  A stay, or even the complete defeat of the Clean Power Plan, Morrisey acknowledged, will not bring coal back to “its previous lofty heights.”

Just as King Canute could not hold back the incoming tide, King Coal cannot hold back the rise of the seas—or the clean energy transition. 

That transition offers economic opportunity across the country, including states traditionally dependent on coal power. Consider Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweeping down the plain. The wind industry there is booming, as Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt acknowledged in a congressional hearing last week. The sun shines bright on many Kentucky homes, and power companies across the south are investing in solar power. 

We owe it to all Americans to make the clean energy transition work for them.  That’s why NRDC supports proposals like Power+, included in President Obama’s proposed budget to Congress, to invest in new infrastructure and livelihoods for coal communities and workers.  Congress should be building on these kinds of proposals, not holding coal communities hostage.

The full D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments in the Clean Power Plan cases on September 27th.  The court’s action will likely speed up getting the final word from the court of appeals, and an authoritative decision from nine appellate judges may well have extra influence on the Supreme Court—including in determining whether to take the case. 

We are confident that the Clean Power Plan stands on a solid legal foundation under the Clean Air Act, and we look forward to its day in court.

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