Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. Congress enacted the Clean Air Act under that Constitution in 1970. The Supreme Court established by that Constitution ruled in 2007 that the Clean Air Act requires the Environmental Protection Agency to set limits on pollutants that are harmful to public health and welfare due to their effect on the climate. EPA is doing just that through the Clean Power Plan, which it proposed last June and is expect to finalize this summer. This week Senator McConnell urged states to blatantly disregard this standard.
In an op-ed in the Lexington Herald-Leader entitled “States should reject Obama mandate for clean-power regulations,” Senator McConnell urges Governors to “hold back on the costly process of complying.” This is both irresponsible and self-defeating. As Senator Barbara Boxer told the New York Times:
It’s unprecedented that a leader in the Senate would call on states to disobey the law, which has been upheld many times by the Supreme Court. I can’t recall a majority leader calling on states to disobey the law — and I’ve been here almost 24 years.
Governors should put their duty to follow the law and do what’s best for their state ahead of any ideological adherence to Senator McConnell’s polluter-driven agenda.
Let’s take a look at just a few of Senator McConnell’s outrageous statements and break them down one by one.
McConnell: “this proposed regulation would have a negligible effect on global climate…”
Fact: As I wrote last year, coal-fired power plants produce 40 percent of U.S. heat-trapping carbon pollution, the main driver of changes to our climate that bring more frequent and intense storms, droughts and wildfires. And without the Clean Power Plan, we would have no national limits on the amount of carbon pollution that power plants can release into the air.
The Clean Power Plan, as currently proposed, would help cut carbon pollution from the power sector by 30 percent from 2005 levels. EPA estimates that the standard would produce climate and health benefits worth $55 billion to $93 billion in 2030, including avoiding 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths and 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks in children. These benefits far outweigh EPA’s estimates of the costs, which themselves are inflated due to overly pessimistic assumptions about the cost of energy efficiency and out-of-date assumptions about the cost and performance of solar and wind power.
Moreover, the United States has obtained significant new commitments to curb carbon pollution from both China and India based on the credibility afforded to us by the domestic reductions called for in the Clean Power Plan.
McConell: “States report that the regulation’s mandates are not technologically achievable…”
Fact: The EPA crafted the Clean Power Plan meticulously. Reduction targets reflect the state-by-state assessment of local conditions that states asked for in EPA’s unprecedented public outreach efforts before the rule was even proposed. Every state’s target is readily achievable – using currently available technologies.
In Senator McConnell’s home state of Kentucky, EPA showed particular solicitude and was, if anything, overly deferential to the state’s historical over-reliance on coal for virtually 100% of its electricity. Many of these coal plants are already obsolete and too expensive to maintain. As a result, Kentucky may achieve all or nearly all of it’s required pollution reductions before the Clean Power Plan even takes effect in 2020, according to a recent study by PJM, which operates Kentucky’s electric grid.
Even power companies are on the record claiming the CPP is a “reasonable and balanced approach to reducing CO2 emissions.” As NextEra Energy’s comments to the EPA explain: “NEE agrees with EPA that meaningful emission reductions can be achieved from the electric sector while maintaining electric system reliability.” This reflects the views of a majority of utility executives surveyed by Utility Dive.
McConnell: “it’s difficult to conceive how a plan imposed from Washington would be much different from what a state might develop on its own.”
Fact: A state has much more flexibility if it crafts its own plan than EPA has in devising the federal plan that will be applied to uncooperative states. Law Professor Daniel Selmi explains the five ways states would disadvantage themselves by vacating the field to EPA.
A state plan, for example, could establish an overall emission limit and auction allowances, investing the proceeds in energy efficiency and renewables. States that are already using this approach in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative have generated net benefits of over $1.6 billion for their citizens. It is unlikely that a federal plan would establish this kind of auction.
Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies said, “It seems almost certain that the EPA’s federal implementation plan is going to be more restrictive and less flexible than a typical state plan.” This is not to say that the federal plan will onerous, it just won’t provide the full benefits of an individualized state plan.
States that follow Senator McConnell’s advice to hold back on complying with the Clean Power Plan will also have far less time to make the clean energy investments that would reduce emissions in the cheapest possible way. This could force more rapid retirements of existing power plants when the day of reckoning comes, creating the very electricity system reliability problems Clean Power Plan opponents say they want to avoid.
What this all boils down to is the Senate Majority Leader calling on states to relinquish their freedom to craft a compliance plan of their own, and allow the federal government to create – and implement – one on their behalf. He is asking for states to gamble their economy, their environment and their health for the benefit of his fossil-fueled agenda. While a few states may take their lead from Senator McConnell for partisan political reasons, it’s hard to imagine why others would follow this irresponsible approach.