Western U.S. Accelerating Climate Action Despite CPP Repeal

The Environmental Protection Agency announced this week that it has issued a proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan (CPP), which aims to reduce dangerous carbon pollution from power plants. Rolling back this critical policy makes no sense, especially given the tremendous clean energy progress already occurring throughout the country. The western states have seen significant growth in their clean energy economies, and repealing the CPP would only impede that growth while creating uncertainty for both utilities and customers.

The CPP, established under President Obama, is the biggest step America has taken to combat climate change. Power plants are one of the largest sources of carbon pollution in our country, driving the changes in our climate that threaten our health and our communities. By putting limits on power plants, the CPP would have also eliminated enough soot and smog to prevent 90,000 asthma attacks and 3,600 premature deaths annually by 2030. In addition, the CPP would promote cuts in energy waste by encouraging better efficiency programs, which could save average households as much as 7 percent on their annual electricity bills in 2030.

Throughout the western U.S., states have demonstrated a strong commitment to clean energy and climate action. States in the region are already making significant progress on cutting their carbon emissions while growing their economies.

Between 2012 and 2016:

  • Nevada cut its power sector carbon emissions by 4 percent while its economy grew by 8 percent
  • Colorado cut its power sector carbon emissions by 9 percent while its economy grew by 14 percent
  • Arizona cut its power sector carbon emissions by 13 percent while its economy grew by 6 percent
  • California cut its power sector carbon emissions by 21 percent while its economy grew by 14 percent

That remarkable climate momentum is showing no signs of slowing down, as many utilities continue to shut down coal plants and invest billions of dollars in renewable energy projects, while state leaders pledge to achieve ambitious climate goals.

Many power companies in the region are already moving away from higher-emitting resources. Many large utility companies in the region have announced plans to retire coal-fired power plants in the coming years as they can no longer effectively compete in the market. For example, the 2,250-MW coal-fired Navajo Generating Station in Arizona is no longer financially viable due to competition from cheaper energy sources and is scheduled to retire at the end of 2019. The Public Service Co. of New Mexico recently announced it will retire the 1,800-MW San Juan coal-fired generating station―one of the largest power plants in the western United States―between now and 2022 (which will save the utility $70-$450 million over 20 years) and will exit coal-fired generation entirely by 2031 at the latest. Oregon’s last coal plant is closing in the coming years, while two unites at Montana’s largest coal plant are slated to close no later than 2022; Washington will close its last remaining coal plant by 2025 and LADWP has committed to stop burning coal at the large Intermountain Power plant in Utah the sam year.

At the same time, power companies have responded enthusiastically to low renewable energy costs, and have proposed huge investments in renewable energy development. For example, Rocky Mountain Power recently requested approval for a planned $3.5 billion investment in wind energy. Arizona-based Tucson Electric Power recently signed a PPA for a combined solar-plus-storage system for an incredibly low price of less than $45 per MWh. Other utilities across the region, from New Mexico to Oregon, are moving in a similar direction. Wind and solar prices are at record lows across the west, offering big cost savings to those that switch from fossil fuels.

Strong utility investments in renewables and efficiency are driving job growth and economic gains. The clean energy sector currently employs over 2.5 million Americans. Wind technician is the fastest-growing job in the country, and solar jobs across the United States have increased at least 20 percent per year for the past four years and are available in all 50 states. California currently holds the no. 1 spot nationwide, and several other states in the western U.S., including Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado, rank in the top 10 for solar jobs nationwide. Oregon and Washington saw significant solar job growth from 2015 to 2016, and both rank in the top 20. The Trump Administration’s decision to try to repeal the Clean Power Plan imperils that clean energy job growth, but fortunately state and local leaders are already stepping up their commitments to clean energy and climate action.

States, cities, and companies have picked up the mantle of climate leadership, and many states in the western U.S. are leading the way. Washington, Oregon, and California are also members of the U.S. Climate Alliance, and they have also signed on to the We Are Still In pledge, along with dozens of cities in the region. Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed a bill in 2016 that increases the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) to 50 percent by 2040 and requires Oregon’s two largest utilities to completely eliminate coal imports by 2035. Now she also wants a policy to cap economy wide carbon emissions. The Nevada legislature recently passed 11 bills to help support renewable energy projects in the state (and Republican Governor Sandoval signed nine of them). And Colorado’s governor, John Hickenlooper, signed into law a bill that extends utility energy efficiency programs in the state, as well as an executive order declaring that the state will aim to reduce emissions and improve energy efficiency. 

From California to Montana to Arizona, the Western states can still make significant progress on clean energy in the Trump era. EPA is required by law to cut carbon emissions, whether Trump likes it or not. The EPA must take public comments on the proposal, and is likely to hold hearings to get the public’s view, so it is crucial that as many people as possible take part in the process and register their concerns. In the meantime, it is more important than ever for states to keep moving ahead, which will help get federal solutions to climate and clean energy back in place.

Thanks to my colleagues Elisheva Mittleman and Kevin Steinberger for co-authoring this blog.

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