EPA’s Dirty Power Plan Takes Aim at State Climate Leaders

The Trump Environmental Protection Agency’s recent proposal to gut federal climate standards for power plants not only threatens to increase pollution and kill Americans, but would also impose pointless new administrative burdens on Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, making it costlier for the states to protect their residents from dangerous climate change.

EPA’s Dirty Power Plan proposal ignores the progress these states have made over the last decade in cutting power plant pollution under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, commonly known as RGGI, and the tremendous benefits they’ve delivered in doing so.

Since 2009, bipartisan leaders in Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont have worked to transform the power sector through RGGI, the nation’s first market-based climate program. Among their achievements:

With success like this, it’s no wonder that the states agreed last year to extend RGGI through 2030, and that states like New Jersey and Virginia are looking to join in.

EPA’s Dirty Power Plan, however, completely ignores this progress and refuses to set emission reduction targets based on least-cost, RGGI-like approaches that states are already using to tackle climate change. And even though EPA’s proposal is significantly weaker than RGGI, it would force the RGGI states to develop new pointless and duplicative programs—that will achieve no new benefits—to check the box in meeting federal standards.

EPA has no authority to stop RGGI, and thus can’t—and won’t—stop the states from continuing to make progress on climate change under their innovative program. But by proposing a Dirty Power Plan that imposes burdensome new requirements that won’t actually reduce emissions, Trump’s EPA signaled it will try to make solving climate change as difficult as possible for climate-leading states that responsibly forge ahead, while requiring nothing of the states that lag behind.

RGGI’s Market-Based Approach

RGGI has been successful in large part because it uses a flexible, market-based design. Rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach to cutting carbon pollution, RGGI uses a cap-and-invest approach that sets an enforceable limit on pollution, but lets the power sector figure out the most cost-effective ways to achieve it. Solutions include installing more renewable energy, investing in energy efficiency, and shifting generation to more efficient, cleaner power plants.

Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states are committed to tackling climate change under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. The Trump Administration can't stop their progress.

Polluting power plants must purchase permits to comply with RGGI, which has generated over $3 billion that the states have used to invest in clean energy and lower customers’ energy bills.

California is taking a similar approach with equally impressive results. Such market-based programs have also been used for decades to tackle acid rain and other pollution problems.

The Dirty Power Plan Would Impose New Burdens on States, to No Benefit

Rather than supporting and extending this model nationwide to tackle climate change, the Trump Administration ignores these proven strategies and instead would require states to individually assess each coal plant and set weak, source-by-source emission standards. This proposal would impose new hoops for states to jump through—but also create new loopholes to allow power plants to avoid addressing the climate threat.

As my colleague Lissa Lynch writes, EPA’s proposal could actually increase carbon pollution, sicken Americans, and accelerate dangerous climate change.

Trump’s EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler claims his agency’s strategy would return pollution control authority to the states. But his argument doesn’t pass the smell test. The Dirty Power Plan would impose new administrative burdens by requiring states to set source-specific standards for each power plant, but based only on minimal “heat rate improvements”—tweaks to slightly increase a plant’s efficiency, but not meaningfully reduce its emissions. At the same time, the proposal would also create loopholes in other Clean Air Act requirements in order to allow power plants to increase pollution.

The Dirty Power Plan would force the RGGI states and states like California to develop these new, duplicative pollution control programs on top of their existing market-based approaches that are already successfully reducing carbon pollution. This requirement serves no purpose and would provide no benefits. By ignoring the states’ proven strategies, EPA would needlessly impose costs on these states and forgo the emissions reductions that could be achieved by extending a RGGI-like program nationwide.

Why has EPA created this nonsensical requirement? One reason seems clear: if EPA were to acknowledge that programs like RGGI can cut pollution further, faster, and more cheaply, its own proposed approach would be revealed as the worse than nothing scam it is.

Trump’s EPA Can’t and Won’t Stop RGGI’s Progress

Importantly, no matter how hard the Trump Administration tries to turn back the clock, it won’t be able to stop RGGI’s progress. Last fall, RGGI’s nine participating states unanimously agreed to double down on their program through legally-binding carbon pollution reductions that will continue RGGI’s progress through 2030.

EPA has no authority to stop the RGGI states from moving forward under their own program. While it can attempt to impose costs on states taking action to address climate change, RGGI’s benefits for state residents, the environment, and the economy speak for themselves, and state governors and environmental agency heads have made clear they’re not backing down.

Moreover, EPA’s misguided effort violates its mandate to address climate change under the Clean Air Act, and if the Trump Administration attempts to finalize this deeply flawed proposal, NRDC and others will sue to prevent it.

About the Authors

Bruce Ho

Senior Advocate, Climate & Clean Energy Program
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