Friends of the Clean Power Plan and Climate Action

Late last month, a broad coalition of organizations, representing millions of Americans, went on record with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit to state their support for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s Clean Power Plan. In a post last week, my colleague David Doniger discussed the briefs filed by those supporting EPA; I go through some of these "friend-of-the court" briefs here.

All of the briefs offer valuable perspectives on why we need to address climate change, why the Clean Power Plan is a smart way to reduce pollution, and why the court should reject polluter arguments and uphold the EPA's standards.

A brief filed by public health and medical organizations including the American Thoracic Society, succinctly explained what's at stake:

"Failure to uphold the Clean Power Plan would undermine EPA's ability to carry out its legal obligation to regulate carbon emissions that endanger human health, and would negatively impact the health of current and future generations of Americans."

According to the EPA, the Clean Power Plan will create between $34 billion to $54 billion per year in public health and climate benefits in 2030, in part by reducing exposure to dangerous air pollution and preventing up to 3,600 premature deaths and 90,000 asthma attacks in children.

(For more on how climate change threatens our health, see my colleague Kim Knowlton's new blog about the Global Change Research Program's new report on climate and health.)

The threat to our health, and the many other harms from a warming planet, are recognized by the many individuals and organizations that submitted briefs. Among them are 208 current and former members of Congress, major tech companies, public health organizations, faith leaders, consumer groups, power companies, 54 cities, counties, and mayors representing more than 18 million people, who all filed briefs this week defending these public health safeguards.

Climate change poses a serious threat to our health, and particularly affects the poorest among us. This is one of the reasons that more than forty religious organizationsincluding Evangelical, Baptist, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu groups, as well as coalitions of interfaith groups and colleges and universities with religious affiliationsfiled a brief, saying:

"The ecological crisis [of climate change] brings with it a human crisis. One of the foundational tenets of Amici's religious traditions is the moral obligation to protect and assist the poor, powerless, and dispossessed. Climate change threatens human health and welfare, particularly for those living in poverty and the least powerful. The consequences of climate change are distributed neither evenly nor proportionally to the fruits of the economic activity that produces carbon emissions. Quite the contrary, the impacts of climate change fall most heavily on those least able to bear the burden."

Now, opponents of the Clean Power Plan are arguing that the EPA exceeded its authority under the Clean Air Act in regulating carbon pollution from power plants. But as 208 current and former members of Congress explained in their brief, the EPA is on firm statutory ground:

"The rule at issue effectuates the policy Congress established in the CAA because it is consistent with the text, structure, and legislative history of the Act. Most significantly, it reflects Congress's considered decision to establish a comprehensive regulatory regime that could address all pollutants, both known and unknown."

Former EPA Administrators William D. Ruckelshaus and William K. Reillyboth appointed by Republican Presidentscontinued the line of argument that the Clean Air Act is designed to allow agencies the flexibility to respond to new threats which emerge:

"[T]he Clean Power Plan is simply the latest in a long line of instances when EPA has similarly acted to address pressing public health and environmental problems not necessarily fully anticipated at the time of the congressional enactment of the relevant statutory language."

As if that weren't enough, former Senate staff who drafted relevant sections of the Clean Air Act submitted their own brief, providing additional detailed validation of the EPA's use of the Act to tackle carbon pollution.

One of the arguments opponents of the Clean Power Plan have made is that it imposes a new regulatory burden on states. However, sixteen former state environmental and energy officials, ably rebutted the point, saying:

"[T]he Clean Power Plan's flexible approach is well suited for achieving carbon emissions targets while maintaining the reliability and performance of the nation's electricity system and respecting the traditional role of the states in utility regulation."

Dominion Resources, a major utility company serving Virginia and North Carolina, weighed in on the reasonableness of the Clean Power Plan's targets and design:

"The Rule provides a flexible, accommodating compliance framework that means the Rule can be implemented by states and EPA in a way that is challenging but ultimately manageable for regulated power plants."

Local governmentswho are on the front lines facing climate change impactsalso weighed in to support the CPP. A brief submitted jointly by the National League of Cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and 54 individual cities, counties, and mayors made the case that local governments need the Clean Power Plan because they have few other options for engaging solutions to cut climate-changing pollution:

"Because cities' legal authority generally extends only as far as their state governments allow, cities' efforts to adapt to a changing climate and to mitigate its causes are highly sensitive to national policies like the Clean Power Plan, which shape national markets, steer state action, and have large direct impacts on nationwide emissions."

Climate impacts on U.S. cities and soil aren't the only reason to reduce the impacts of climate change. As former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, former Secretary of Defense and CIA Director Leon Panetta, and Ambassador William J. Burns outlined in their brief:

"The Clean Power Plan is not only important to the United States' leadership role in global efforts to combat climate change. The Department of Defense has recognized that, far from a purely environmental issue, climate change presents an 'urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources such as food and water.' In short, global warming makes the world more volatile and less safe—which provides another reason why concerted, persistent action by the United States is of paramount importance."

Fortunately, reducing carbon pollution creates new economic opportunities, as a joint brief from local Chambers of Commerce, clean energy business organizations and small business groups attested:

"[T]he net benefits of the final rule . . . far outweigh the costs. The Plan will stimulate economic growth and job creation in clean and renewable energy, energy efficiency, and other energy sources and technologies. By contrast, the cost of unchecked climate change that can be quantified economically dwarfs the costs of the Plan—even without considering the enormous unquantifiable costs of climate change."

Landmark technology companies Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft (just a side notewhen is the last time we saw those four companies team up on anything?) also expressed support for the Clean Power Plan. The companies made the point that:

"The [Clean Power] Plan will provide considerable benefits to electricity purchasers and that the Plan will not only be good for the environment, it will be good for business."

They base this on their own experience with renewable energy, which they have found to be a stable, cost-effective, and consumer-appreciated source of energy—in other words, good business. As their brief reads, "the Plan promises to promote greater use of increasingly affordable, stable sources of renewable energy that appeal to investors and customers alike."

Other major consumer brandsMars, Ikea, Adobe and Blue Cross Blue Shieldsubmitted a brief which in addition to endorsing clean energy, explained the perspectives of companies concerned about the costs of uncontrolled climate change:

"The Amici Companies recognize that delaying action to abate climate change will be costly in economic and human terms  . . . Moreover, the cost of doing business without a national carbon mitigation strategy subjects the Amici Companies to undesirable risks that are being appraised throughout the investor and insurance communities. As a result, companies are beginning to bear economic and social disruptions from carbon source uncertainty that could be alleviated by the Court in upholding the Clean Power Plan."

The Court is also hearing from major consumer organizations. Consumers Union, Public Citizen and an Illinois ratepayer's advocacy organization told the Court in their brief that the Clean Power Plan will expand access to affordable electricity and reduce household energy bills, especially for consumers in low-income communities, boiling it down to one powerful sentence:

"EPA's carefully calibrated plan promises to drive electricity costs down for consumers and ratepayers while accomplishing substantial cuts to greenhouse-gas emissions."

The labor organization Service Employees International Unionrepresenting two million members, including 1.2 healthcare workersalso expressed its support, saying:

"The CPP offers substantial promise to reduce these [climate change-related] dangers and reverse their effects. It will diminish the incidence of pollutant- and climate-related diseases, especially in those communities and among those peoples most at risk, lead to reduced prices for electricity consumers, and create tens of thousands of new jobs in the 'green energy' sector of the domestic economy."

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