Sunday, February 22, 2015

Pa. among states aiming to thwart EPA Clean Power Plan

State legislatures in coal-dependent parts of the country, including Pennsylvania, are taking action to delay complying with the EPA's Clean Power Plan.

Naveena Sadasivam writes in InsideClimate News:
Since the 2015 legislative session convened last month, at least a dozen states have introduced bills that effectively increase bureaucratic red tape and stall states from submitting compliance plans to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). And, in some cases, the bills grant legislatures the power to veto their states' carbon emission reduction plans.
Three states­­––Kentucky, Virginia and Pennsylvania––have already enacted such laws.The bills introduced in West Virginia, Minnesota and Montana, for instance, require that state plans be submitted to the legislature for approval before they go to the EPA. In Colorado, legislators want the state utility commission to sign off on the plan before it goes to Washington.
"The overall strategy is to find ways to choke the state plan with red tape one way or the other," said Aliya Haq, a director in the climate-and-clear-air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "These bills are all misguided in that they ironically limit the state's options," she said.
Under the Clean Power Plan, states have been assigned specific carbon reduction targets. Nationwide, the Obama administration aims to slash emissions 30 percent by 2030. The EPA is currently reviewing comments on the plan and is expected to finalize the regulations this summer. Once the rulemaking process is completed, states are on deadline to submit their plans by June 2016.
If a state does not submit a plan or submits one that fails to meet the EPA’s requirements, then the federal agency must formulate a plan of its own for the state.
Lawmakers have argued that they should be allowed to weigh in on any plan that significantly affects their states' economies. They contend that the EPA is overstepping its authority and that the Clean Power Plan will lead to higher electricity prices for consumers.
Environmental groups see the recent onslaught of legislation as a delaying tactic. They say that trying to push back or prevent submission of a plan will not give states a free pass from reducing carbon emissions. Instead of choosing the most cost-effective plan agreeable to all stakeholders, the states will ultimately pigeonhole themselves and be forced to accept a boilerplate plan proposed by the EPA, they say.
Sadasivam writes that many of the states are basing their approach on "model legislation advocated by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative, business-backed group based in Virginia. ALEC routinely proposes legislation for states to adopt. While ALEC is secretive in its operations, leaked internal documents show that coal companies like Peabody Energy and their trade associations are bankrolling the group.

"The whole concerted national effort to have this pseudo-organic feel of legislative outrage about tackling climate change seems completely contrived by groups like ALEC," said David Masur, executive director of PennEnvironment, an advocacy organization based in Pennsylvania. But Masur cautioned that ALEC is not the only organization working to undermine efforts to address climate change. Segments of the Tea Party, the coal industry and mining unions are all hugely influential, he said.
Pennsylvania is one of a handful of states that have already enacted rules requiring legislative approval of the state plan to cut carbon emissions. The law does provide a loophole that allows the governor to submit a compliance plan without legislative approval. The legislation was signed last October under then Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican who had been vocal in his opposition to the Clean Power Plan.
Since then, polls have confirmed that Pennsylvanians believe climate change is a real and immediate threat that requires swift action. A recent survey conducted by a bipartisan polling team found that 82 percent of Pennsylvanians want their state to implement its own plan to reduce carbon pollution. A majority support clean energy and doubt that renewable energy will mean burdensome costs to consumers.
Pennsylvania's newly elected governor, Tom Wolf, a Democrat who ran on a pro-environment platform, has indicated that he will engage with the EPA to meet the state's targets under the Clean Power Plan.
"It's depressing that groups like ALEC have so much influence," said Masur. "When hundreds of thousands of people say that the time to tackle climate change is now and the state legislature and governor [Corbett] ignore that and say we will still do what we want, that’s a bad signal for democracy."
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