State lawmakers review options for federal Clean Power Plan

Texas would have to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from its coal-fired power plants to 39 percent below 2012 levels by 2030 under proposed rules released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in June. State officials in Texas have discussed whether to prepare to comply with the rules when they are finalized in 2015 or to challenge them in court. The Texas House Committee on Environmental Regulation, charged this interim with reviewing the proposed rules and their impact on Texas, is scheduled to meet on September 29 and 30 to discuss them.

The Clean Power Plan. The goal of the EPA’s proposed rules, known as the Clean Power Plan, is to decrease by 2030 the nationwide carbon emissions from power plants by 30 percent from 2005 levels. The EPA regulates carbon dioxide pollution on the premise that it contributes to climate change and poses public health risks. Power plants are the primary emitters of carbon pollution in the country, according to the EPA.

The proposed federal rules assign unique carbon emission reduction goals to each state based on that state’s energy mix and ability to integrate the reduction measures, or “building blocks,” described in the plan. The EPA has calculated both an interim goal and a final 2030 goal for each state. The proposed rules require states to develop plans to meet their goals, either independently or with other states, and submit them to the EPA by June 2016 (or June 2017, if they are granted an extension). The EPA will develop a compliance solution for states that fail to submit their own plans.

The Clean Power Plan includes four building blocks on which states may base their plans — improving efficiency of existing coal plants, relying more heavily on natural gas, increasing use of renewable energy sources, and enhancing energy efficiency of homes and businesses. The EPA says it has authority to regulate carbon emissions from power plants under the Clean Air Act, sec. 111(d).

Twelve states have filed a joint lawsuit against the EPA. They say that because the EPA issued emission standards for existing power plants in 2012 under sec. 112 of the Clean Air Act, the agency may not use sec. 111(d) to regulate the same type of source, citing American Electric Power Company, Inc. v. Connecticut. Texas has not joined the lawsuit and may wait until the rules are finalized to decide whether to challenge them. The EPA is accepting public comment on the rules until December 1.

One mechanism that has been suggested for the state to prepare to comply with the Clean Power Plan is to give the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) explicit statutory authority to develop a plan to meet the EPA’s interim and final goals.

Supporters of the Clean Power Plan say Texas leads the nation in carbon emissions produced by power plants and that working with the EPA to decrease the state’s carbon footprint could make the state a leader in clean energy. Texas is already reducing carbon emissions through improved technology and decreased reliance on coal. Complying with the plan would create jobs and spur investment in renewable energy. Investing in energy efficiency could lower costs for consumers.

Supporters say it would be unproductive and costly for taxpayers and industry for Texas to resist compliance and that the state has had little success fighting EPA regulations in the past. Texas should develop its own plan, rather than wait for the EPA to design one for the state, they say.

The abundance of natural gas in Texas would make compliance relatively painless, supporters say, and the increased demand for natural gas would benefit the industry. Relying more on other energy resources also would put less strain on the state’s limited water resources, as coal-fired power plants require substantial amounts of water to operate.

Supporters also say that the effects of climate change, such as severe drought, rising sea levels, and more intense natural disasters, are already evident in Texas. The cost of its effects is substantially higher than those of complying with the federal rules, supporters say.

Critics of the Clean Power Plan say that it is an example of extreme federal overreach and complying with the rules would harm Texas’ economy and its coal industry. The rules would force several coal plants to close, resulting in lost jobs and the premature retirement of some facilities, opponents say. Increasing reliance on energy sources that are more expensive to produce could also result in higher costs for consumers.

The benefits of successfully lowering carbon dioxide emissions through the Clean Power Plan would be minuscule and could have drawbacks, according to opponents. Attempting to reach the specified goal, if attainable, could threaten the reliability of electricity for consumers, with those living in rural areas being the most vulnerable to outages.

Critics also say that the EPA’s statutory authority to implement the Clean Power Plan under the Clean Air Act, sec. 111(d) is questionable and should be challenged.

Some critics question whether scientific evidence has shown conclusively that climate change is occurring or that human activity is wholly or partially responsible.

by Mary Beth Schaefer

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