On Tuesday, the US Supreme Court took the unusual step of delaying implementation of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan until legal challenges to the regulation are completed – a decision that effectively stops the regulation in its tracks until 2017 or later. A centerpiece of the Obama administration’s climate change policy, the Clean Power Plan (CPP) was designed to lower carbon emissions from U.S. power plants to 32% below 2005 levels by 2030. In New England, compliance with the CPP was expected to come primarily through the states’ involvement in and strengthening of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). RGGI, a nine-state carbon trading program, has been in operation since 2009. The program’s success in reducing emissions while driving economic growth is reflected in the final version of the CPP, which encourages states to use a RGGI-like model.
While the CPP’s mandate is stayed, states are not required to move forward with planning for the substantial cuts in greenhouse gas emissions for the electric sector that it requires. But they should. As Acadia Center analysis shows, the 9 states involved in RGGI have reduced emissions and sent effective price signals to the electric sector in favor of carbon-free resources, while improving both public health and the economy. In the absence of the CPP – whether it’s temporary or permanent – state-led and regional initiatives like RGGI are even more crucial to ensuring that the US can meet its international obligations and national climate action plan, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve public health, and build the clean energy future. Fortunately, many states (CA, CT, IL, ME, MD, MA, NH, NM, NY, OR, RI, VT, VA, WA, and counting) have pledged to continue working on plans to reduce GHG emissions from their power sectors despite the stay. States looking to take a proactive stance on climate can maximize their environmental impact while delivering economic benefits by following the subsequent best practices from RGGI’s seven years of experience:
- Cover emissions from existing and new power plants;
- Auction allowances, rather than give them away for free;
- Invest auction revenue in energy efficiency; and
- Set ambitious reduction goals.
Tuesday’s decision did not evaluate the merits of the Clean Power Plan or the question of whether the Environmental Protection Agency went beyond its granted authority under the Clean Air Act to issue such regulations. Review of those questions remains at the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, who is expected to hear arguments on these issues in June. If that court upholds the rule, and the Supreme Court either denies further review or takes the case and upholds the rule itself, the stay can be lifted and the rule implemented. Until either of those things happen, though, formal CPP implementation is on hold. Moreover, given the pace of appellate court decisions, neither of those possibilities will happen until mid-2017 – well after we have a new President.
Which means it’s up to the states to regulate greenhouse gas emissions – again. In New England, we’re fortunate to have taken the lead on innovative efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve our economy and public health, and invest in a more-efficient low-carbon electric sector. While we wait for federal programs to be straightened out, we should encourage other states to take action against climate change by adopting the RGGI model.
Amy Boyd is Senior Attorney in Acadia Center’s Boston office. She works on energy, transportation and climate change issues in Massachusetts and regionally. Amy came to Acadia Center from Foley Hoag LLP in Boston where she had been an associate in the Environmental Practice Group & Administrative Department since 2006.
Jordan Stutt is a Policy Analyst in Acadia Center’s Boston office. He works on energy, transportation and climate change issues, with an emphasis on research and policy analysis for energy systems and carbon markets. He was an Energy Policy Analyst at Pace Energy and Climate Center, Pace University Law School in White Plains, NY, where he focused on energy efficiency and RGGI.