Heard on the Hill: States Can Cut Carbon Pollution and Keep the Lights On

During a Capitol Hill briefing for U.S. Senators and their staff today, state officials from across the country gave strong endorsements for the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan to cut dangerous carbon pollution from power plants, saying its targets are achievable while maintaining the reliability of the electric grid and that it's a necessary step to combat the climate impacts that are already affecting their residents' health and livelihood.

"We certainly support the effort. We don't want EPA to weaken it," said David Thornton, assistant commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. He was speaking on a panel convened by the minority staff of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and chaired by Vicki Arroyo, executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center. "We find our targets to be achievable," Thornton said.

The officials represent some of the 14 states that submitted joint comments to the EPA in support of the carbon standards--which will clean up the air we breathe, unleash clean energy and shield future generations from unchecked climate change--and even urged the EPA to make them stronger.

The plan "protects electricity reliability," said Martha Rudolph, director of environmental programs at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. "Colorado is fully supportive of the Clean Power Plan." One of the strengths of its plan, she said, is that "it affords states significant flexibility to develop their own plans."

Jared Snyder, an assistant commissioner at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, said that the experience of the nine-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI)--which has already cut carbon pollution 40 percent from 2005-2013--proves that the Clean Power Plan can achieve significant cuts economically and reliably. "We achieved these reductions without impacting grid reliability," he told an audience of about 80 in the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

He said the RGGI states have cut pollution, saved consumers money, made the air healthier and created clean energy jobs. "It has provided economic benefits that have exceeded the costs," he said.

Based on the New York and RGGI experience, he said, "EPA's target for the nation--a 30 percent reduction over 15 years--can easily be met using readily available strategies.....In fact, we think greater emission reductions could be achieved by making some adjustments to the program."

The briefing came amidst a controversy triggered by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who last week urged states to help him dismantle the carbon pollution standards by refusing to comply with the Clean Air Act. Yet McConnell is out of step with Kentucky leaders and utilities on this:

  • Kentucky leaders think it would be "unwise" to stop working on a strategy to implement the Clean Power Plan, with Kentucky's Energy and Environment Cabinet saying, "The overwhelming majority of our stakeholders are telling us to make preparations to submit a plan. Failing to follow through with creation of that plan means Kentucky would most likely have to abide by a federal implementation plan..."
  • E&E News reported that (subscription required) even Kentucky's largest utility, Louisville Gas & Electric, supports the state's actions to develop a Clean Power Plan (even though the utility itself isn't keen on the standards.)

Moreover, Laurence Tribe, a constitutional law expert whom McConnell cited in making his case, told The New Republic that McConnell's advice to states " is "not really helpful."

As the New York Times noted, "Mr. McConnell's call to governors to sit on their hands is a travesty of responsible leadership."

In contrast to McConnell, who ignores the problems that unlimited carbon pollution creates, many states are already feeling the impacts of warming temperatures first hand.

Sam Ricketts, director of the Washington office of Governor Jay Inslee of Washington state, called the Clean Power Plan, "an essential federal climate policy action," noting that the Washington's oyster industry is already suffering from ocean acidification caused by carbon pollution and that the state's fire seasons are worsening.

"This is a rule that is going to work," Ricketts said. "We think it is absolutely achievable." He said the state has already seen economic gains from the steps it has taken to increase renewable power: "Wind energy has been an economic boom for our rural areas." Although EPA hasn't yet finalized the plan, Ricketts said, "We hope it will be aggressive, and we hope it will be on time."

Several of the panelists praised EPA for consulting closely with their states. "We commend EPA for its unprecedented outreach," said Colorado's Rudolph. Added Ricketts, "EPA has been listening to input."