The Virtues of Clean Power Planning: Pennsylvania After the Stay

Recognizing that the Supreme Court's recent "stay" of the Clean Power Plan neither halts climate change nor negates the many good reasons Pennsylvania has (apart from EPA deadlines) for taking immediate steps to expand clean energy and reduce carbon pollution from power plants, Governor Tom Wolf and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection have announced that they will continue work on a state plan to implement the Clean Power Plan.

Predictably, Pennsylvania's coal interests have cried foul, suggesting that the DEP will inflict irreparable harm upon them just by planning for a clean energy future. In fact, the Wolf administration's decision to move forward is reasonable, prudent, and moral - with a tremendous upside and no downside. Here's why.

With or without the Clean Power Plan, clean energy is just good policy.

As my colleague David Doniger has written, NRDC is confident that the Supreme Court will ultimately uphold the Clean Power Plan. If it does, fossil-fuel fired power plants in Pennsylvania will be legally required to cut their carbon pollution, in which case the Commonwealth's "least-cost compliance approach to benefit consumers of electricity" (to cite the state Greenhouse Gas Regulation Implementation Act) will be to expand energy efficiency and zero-emitting renewable energy. (For more policy detail, check out the comments that NRDC and several Clean Power Coalition partners filed during the DEP's public comment process last November).

The Clean Power Plan isn't the reason for expanding clean energy, though. The reason is that replacing dirty fossil fuels with efficiency and renewables will improve air quality and public health, create clean energy jobs, and also reduce electricity bills, in addition to curbing global warming. Most fundamentally, it's a way to "protect our common home." Moreover, as Secretary Quigley has noted, clean energy is "really good business," especially given the recent five-year extension of the Production Tax Credit for wind energy and the Investment Tax Credit for solar energy.

It's for such reasons that Governor Wolf and 16 other governors last week signed the Governors' Accord for a New Energy Future, which recognizes that "expanding energy efficiency and renewable energy in a cost-effective way strengthens our states' economic productivity, reduces air pollution and avoids energy waste." And it's because clean energy makes business sense that, as my colleague Montina Cole has explained, many power companies are affirming their commitment to cleaner energy resources - regardless of regulatory requirements.

Pennsylvanians overwhelmingly support clean energy and a strong and timely State Plan to reduce carbon pollution from power plants.

During the DEP's public comment period on the State Plan last fall, more than 2,000 citizens, generators, businesses, trade groups, legislators, and non-profit organizations filed written comments or testified at the DEP's 14 public listening sessions. NRDC analyzed these comments and found that more than 80% of commenters said they wanted the state to expand clean energy. More than 90% expressed support for the DEP's development of a Pennsylvania-specific State Plan, and almost 70% said they wanted Pennsylvania to submit its Plan on time.

These numbers are consistent with bipartisan polling conducted in late 2014 by Public Opinion Strategies, which found that 82% of Pennsylvanians endorsed a state-crafted plan to curb carbon pollution, while even higher percentages wanted more investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy. The numbers are also in line with data collected by Yale University, as shown on Yale's Climate Opinion Maps.

The Pennsylvania Coal Alliance has claimed that during the comment period, comments filed on behalf of 73% of Pennsylvania's electricity generation asked the DEP to wait until 2018 to submit a state plan. But a fact-check by NRDC found that less than half of Pennsylvania's generation capacity asked the DEP to delay submission. Furthermore, two of Pennsylvania's largest generators - Exelon and Calpine - specifically asked the DEP to submit a State Plan in September, 2016.

The truth is that the electric industry is increasingly of the same mind as Pennsylvania's citizens, when it comes to clean energy. "Electric utilities are investing in clean energy and pursuing energy efficiency," said the president of the Edison Electric Institute, a trade group for investor-owned utilities, after the Supreme Court ruling. Another Edison executive added: "You can't simply put the genie back in the bottle when it comes to major strategic investments that the captains of industry are making,"

Pennsylvania is on course to develop a State Plan now - and could be hurt, if it doesn't.

Pennsylvania has been a leader on the Clean Power Plan since the spring of 2015, when it was accepted into the National Governors Association "policy academy" for modeling Clean Power Plan compliance approaches. The Commonwealth's planning efforts through the NGA are ongoing, and in the meantime Pennsylvania has collected more stakeholder input on Clean Power Plan compliance than any other state.

Thanks to this prudent planning and stakeholder engagement, the DEP is now uniquely positioned to finish a State Plan with a relatively small commitment of time and resources. If the DEP were to stop planning, on the other hand, it would lose momentum and focus, and the State Plan could take much longer to develop - and consume more DEP resources. Thus, if there is even a small chance that the Clean Power Plan will survive - and again, we are confident that it will survive - it makes fiscal sense for Pennsylvania to develop a State Plan now.

Failing to move forward with a State Plan could ultimately make Clean Power Plan compliance more difficult for Pennsylvania. Currently, the final deadline for submitting state plans to the EPA is 2018, while the start-date for generators' compliance obligations is 2022. If the Supreme Court upholds the Clean Power Plan, the former deadline will almost certainly be extended - but given the long lead-in period for compliance, we expect that 2022 would remain the year that compliance obligations begin. Consequently, states that postpone planning until after the federal litigation could find themselves with much less time to develop a thoughtful state plan that works for their citizens and generators.

What Now? The Plan for Pennsylvania's State Plan

According to DEP Secretary Quigley, the goal of the DEP is to release a publicly available? draft State Plan in late May, 2016. After the release, the General Assembly, the public, and all interested stakeholders will have a chance to provide input on the draft, most likely through both written comments and public hearings. The DEP will then revise the Plan and submit it to the EPA for review. The DEP is currently targeting a September, 2016 submission. Coal interests say this planning is bad policy, claiming that since coal was Pennsylvania's energy past, it has to be our energy future. The citizens of the Commonwealth know better, though. Happily, so does the DEP.