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By: Nicholas Bianco, EDF

(EDF Attorneys Tomás Carbonell and Martha Roberts co-authored this post)

Tomorrow – Tuesday, September 27th – the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will hear argument about the historic Clean Power Plan.

The Clean Power Plan places the nation’s first limits on climate-disrupting pollution from the electricity sector, which is responsible for almost 40 percent of U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide.

Many utilities, power producers, and state regulatorsrecognize the importance of addressing climate change – and support the Clean Power Plan. However, some in the electric industry have instead chosen to take a reactionary, obstructionist position against climate progress. They are participating in litigation against the Clean Power Plan. A wide array of prominent legal experts have concluded that these companies’ legal arguments are unsupported. Moreover, in many cases, opponents’ claims are even contrary to their own actions. (See Opening Brief of Petitioners on Procedural and Record-Based Issues, page 12, West Virginia v. EPA, No. 15-1363, D.C. Cir. Apr. 22, 2016)

EDF has just released a new analysis of this issue. It examines a diverse selection of power companies that are litigating against the Clean Power Plan, including Southern Company, American Electric Power, Big Rivers Electric Corporation, and Tri-State Generation & Transmission.

We find that:

  • Overall, power sector emissions of climate pollution are already 21 percent below 2005 levels. As a result, the sector is already two-thirds of the way towards meeting the 2030 emissions reduction requirements of the Clean Power Plan.
  • Even though these particular companies are opposing the Clean Power Plan in court, they are already using a variety of approaches to drive significant cost-effective reductions in climate pollution from their existing fossil-fuel powered units, thanks in large part to favorable economics for lower and zero-carbon generation.
  • These are the same practical, cost-effective methods that EPA identified as the “best system” of emission reduction for climate pollution from power plants, and that formed the basis for the emission limits in the Clean Power Plan.
  • With these investment decisions, power companies are well positioned to comply with the Clean Power Plan, even though they are making claims to the contrary in court.
  • These companies’ own actions affirm the reasonableness of the Clean Power Plan targets as well as EPA’s approach in setting the standard, even though the companies are repeatedly claiming otherwise in court.

This is not the first time some of these companies have advanced deeply flawed “sky is falling” claims about clean air safeguards. Back in the 1970’s, AEP published a series of Washington Post newspaper ads claiming:

There is no way on God’s green earth that the present sulfur-dioxide emissions standards can be met. (Washington Post, April 30, 1974, AEP Display Ad 13)

Not surprisingly, coal plants across the nation are routinely meeting sulfur dioxide limits far more stringent and at very low cost.

This was also true in 1990, when AEP told the Boston Globe that bipartisan solutions to address acid rain could lead to:

the potential destruction of the Midwest economy.

Of course, they then proceeded, along with the rest of the industry, to go out and comply at a small fraction of the costs predicted by EPA. This same story is playing out again today.

The Clean Air Act has achieved deep reductions in pollution and delivered benefits exceeding the costs by 30 to 1 – all while our economy has prospered, and all at a small fraction of the costs predicted by obstructionists in the power industry.

The Clean Power Plan is no different. As our analysis shows, day by day it becomes clearer that the reductions it requires are wholly consistent with driving trends in the industry, and that the benefits will far exceed any cost of compliance.