By Doug Porter
States will be required to dramatically cut emissions from power plants over the next 15 years under the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, announced on Monday. The stage is now set for a major political showdown, reminiscent of the battle over Obamacare.
Given that the burden of implementing these regulations will fall upon the states, the role of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is crafting a counterattack should surprise no one. Details of the pushback were finalized at the group’s meeting in San Diego just two weeks ago.
Today we’ll look at how the opposition to the plan is shaping up, along with the strengths and weaknesses of what are being called a landmark set of regulations to combat climate change.
“No challenge poses a greater threat to our future and future generations than a changing climate,” declared President Obama. “We’re the first generation to feel the effects of climate change, and the last generation that can do something about it.”
The forces aligned with the dirty energy industry would appear to agree with the importance of the administration’s plan–it’s just they feel more threatened by having to change the way they do business than by climate change.
From the New York Times:
In the early months of 2014, a group of about 30 corporate lawyers, coal lobbyists and Republican political strategists began meeting regularly in the headquarters of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, often, according to some of the participants, in a conference room overlooking the White House. Their task was to start devising a legal strategy for dismantling the climate change regulations they feared were coming from President Obama.
The group — headed in part by Roger R. Martella Jr., a top environmental official in the George W. Bush administration, and Peter Glazer, a prominent Washington lobbyist — was getting an early start.
By the time Mr. Obama announced the regulations at the White House on Monday, the small group that had begun its work at the Chamber of Commerce had expanded into a vast network of lawyers and lobbyists ranging from state capitols to Capitol Hill, aided by Republican governors and congressional leaders. And their plan was to challenge Mr. Obama at every opportunity and take the fight against what, if enacted, would be one of his signature accomplishments to the Supreme Court.
The Washington Post described the legislative strategy of industry opponents, noting it was a byproduct of the recent ALEC annual meeting in San Diego.
In anticipation of the rule’s unveiling, a task force of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) — a conservative group funded in part by electricity producers and fossil-fuel interests — approved model legislation to be sent to state legislatures around the country. The model bill would give state governments special authority to “expedite approval of resources to challenge the EPA’s Clean Power Plan,” according to a copy obtained by The Washington Post…
…The effort by ALEC to fire up state-level resistance to the EPA’s plan was approved July 24 at a meeting in San Diego of the group’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force. Members representing some of the nation’s biggest utilities, oil and gas companies and energy trade associations voted to support model legislation that brings states into the fight against the regulation.
The proposed legislation seeks to direct state attorneys general to join lawsuits against the EPA to prevent “unlawful and costly obligations from being imposed on states,” according to the copy obtained by The Post. It also calls for transferring money into a special fund set up by participating states to underwrite efforts to challenge unwanted environmental regulations. The money would come from state appropriations as well as “any gifts, grants and donations” from outside groups.
Connor Lynch at Salon explained what’s behind the partisan nature of the resistance to actually doing something about climate change:
Why has this scientific fact become such a partisan issue? It’s not that complicated: Massive multi-national corporations and their billionaire chief executives — who are destroying our planet, and making astronomical profits in the process — are legally bribing our elected officials and spreading lies throughout the population. In 2012, the oil and gas industry spent $76 million on political contributions with 89 percent of it going to — surprise! — Republicans. This was almost double what they spent in 2008 — $39,658,963. And 2016 will be no different; we can expect the number to shoot up, maybe over $100 million, while the Republican share of that money, which was 95 percent in 2014, could edge even closer to 100 percent.
Is it any surprise, then, that GOP candidates say things like, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing noncompetitive”; or compare themselves to Galileo in their denial of science.
Not everybody in business is blinded by the quest for short term gain, as Adam Vaughn at the Guardian pointed out:
Hundreds of businesses including eBay, Nestle and General Mills have issued their support for Barack Obama’s clean power plan, billed as the strongest action ever on climate change by a U.S. president…
…The rules are expected to trigger a “tsunami” of legal opposition from states and utilities who oppose the plans, which will significantly boost wind and solar power generation and force a switch away from coal power. Republican presidential hopefuls moved quickly to voice their opposition, saying they would be economically damaging.
But 365 businesses and investors wrote to 29 state governors to strongly support the rules, which they said would benefit the economy and create jobs.
The Devil is in the Details
So what all the fuss about? If you remember back to the days of hyperbole over Obamacare, you’ll recognize some of the rhetoric. Get ready for GOP claims of increased costs–no doubt aimed at “those people” the administration claims to care about,– along with predictions of job destruction and economic ruin.
Keeping with Obamacare analogy, you’ll also be exposed to partisans praising the President’s plan as being much more than it actually is.
Brad Plummer at Vox explains:
So how big a deal is this rule, anyway? You can look at it in a few different ways. Optimistically, the program has the potential to transform the US electricity industry, pushing utilities in every state to take cleaner energy much more seriously. The administration is also hoping this new rule will give a much-needed jolt to global climate talks, spurring other countries to respond with further actions.
Or you could take the dour view: this is a jury-rigged, legally vulnerable plan that’s still only a small piece of what’s necessary to slow the pace of global warming. (By my calculations, this rule amounts to a 6 percent cut in current US greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030 — so think of it as just one part of Obama’s broader climate plan.)
For those of you interested in all the details, here’s a link to the final version of the EPA Clean Power Plan.
The EPA Plan’s Impact on California
For those of us living on the left coast, the administration’s plan is a big nothingburger.
From the Los Angeles Times:
The new rules won’t have much direct effect on California because they are less stringent than the carbon-cutting targets already on the books. State regulators have for years targeted carbon emissions with strict standards on vehicle emissions, energy efficiency, low-carbon fuels and renewable power. Key to California’s efforts is the cap-and-trade program to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, factories, transportation fuels and other major sources.
An analysis of the EPA’s proposed carbon plan last year by the California Air Resources Board found the state could meet its federal emissions target as much as 10 years early, in 2020, just by fully executing existing climate change programs.
The City of San Diego Has a Plan…
Claire Tregeser at KPBS reviewed the recently released detailed look at San Diego’s Climate Action Plan:
The plan legally commits San Diego to having 100 percent of its energy come from renewable sources such as wind and solar by 2035. It does not specify that goal will be achieved using community choice aggregation, a program that would allow San Diego to control where its energy comes from. Under the current system, San Diego Gas & Electric buys the energy.
But the plan includes community choice aggregation as one of the options for the City Council to consider….
…The plan outlines how the city will use a pedestrian master plan and bike master plan to achieve the goal of 50 percent of urban area residents commuting to work in other ways besides driving. It also says the city will consolidate growth in villages so people live closer to where they work.
Nicole Capretz, who penned an early version of the Climate Action Plan under then-iMayor Todd Gloria, now heads up the Climate Action Campaign, a non-profit oriented towards keeping the plan on track.
The concerns Capretz expresses in the KPBS story are very real, namely that it’s hard to see actual leadership coming out of city hall on the nuts and bolts of the critical aspects of the plan, like encouraging density in strategic areas and investments in non-autocentric infrastructure.
One need look no further than the shortsightedness going on in Hillcrest over density and bike lanes to understand why a little guidance from the Mayor would be a good thing.
The Long View on Climate Change
Getting back to the President’s plan, it’s a step in the right direction. It’s a small victory for activists and public interest groups have worked for decades to alert the world to the perils of climate change.
Today’s final words come via Common Dreams:
…environmental and civil rights campaigner Van Jones expressed hope in an article for CNN that the plan will bring meaningful change to low-income communities of color: “After all, one in six black kids and one in nine Latino children has asthma. Seventy-eight percent of African-Americans live within 30 miles of a dirty, polluting coal plant. African-Americans are also more likely to live in coastal areas and die during heat waves…”
…”This is the most significant action yet from the Obama administration, but it’s still not enough to secure his climate legacy,” said May Boeve, executive director for 350.org. “Cutting coal emissions is low hanging fruit, the next challenge will be standing up to Big Oil. We’ll be pushing the administration to build on this announcement and take the additional steps necessary to protect our climate, like rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline, ending fracking, and preventing Arctic and offshore drilling.”
“While historic, when measured against increasingly dire scientific warnings it is clear the rule is not enough to address our climate crisis,” said Friends of the Earth president Erich Pica. “This rule is merely a down payment on the U.S’s historic climate responsibility. It isn’t enough for the U.S. to merely make reforms to our existing utility structure. We must boldly reshape our economy by democratizing energy to move beyond fossil fuels, including natural gas.”
On This Day: 1735 – Freedom of the press in the colonies was established with an acquittal of John Peter Zenger. The writer of the New York Weekly Journal had been charged with seditious libel by the royal governor. The jury said that “the truth is not libelous.” 1979 – The film “Rock & Roll High School” starring the Ramones premiered in New York. 1987 – A new 22-cent postage stamp honoring noted author William Faulkner, went on sale in Oxford, MS. Faulkner had been fired as postmaster of that same post office in 1924.
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Yes, the president’s plan is a first small step — but a very necessary one — that should be supported by all. Keep May Boeve and Erich Pica’s words in the forefront.