Last month, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) sent a letter to all 50 U.S. governors with the recommendation that they ignore the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.
“I have serious legal and policy concerns regarding this proposal,” he wrote in the letter dated March 19.
The proposal, first announced by President Obama in summer 2014, intends to reduce the United States’ carbon emissions by 30 percent by the year 2030. To do this, each state has been asked to reduce its emissions based on how reliant it is on coal. For instance, Washington, which burns relatively little coal, is being asked to cut its emissions by 72 percent. Conversely, McConnell’s state of Kentucky, which is America’s third-largest coal supplier (and generated 93 percent of its electricity from coal in 2013) is only being asked to reduce its emissions by 18 percent.
The proposal, dubbed the Clean Power Plan, gives states until 2017 to submit their plans to cut their power plant pollution, or 2018 for states that create collective plans. States also have the option to set up cap-and-trade plans.
McConnell’s objections to the CPP led him to urge governors to ignore it altogether, claiming that it is overstepping its authority, which extends only to improving power plant efficiencies. McConnell quotes Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe, who has called the Plan “constitutionally reckless” and “usurp[s] the prerogatives of the States, Congress and the Federal Courts.”
Thirteen states have even filed a lawsuit with the Environmental Protection Agency challenging its authority to make them comply.
Yet, tellingly, these states are still preparing emission plans that comply with the EPA’s proposal. Even McConnell’s own state of Kentucky is crafting a transition plan.
“It is important that we plan for that eventuality by working with energy stakeholders to craft a road map from which to navigate,” Kentucky Energy and Environment Department spokesman Dick Brown told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “Failing to follow through with creation of that plan means Kentucky would most likely have to abide by a federal implementation plan that would cause harm to Kentucky’s economic future and burden the next administration with challenges not of its making.”
On Friday, EPA administrator Gina McCarthy said that agency officials have been meeting with state energy and environmental regulators from around the country to work with them on making the transition. “We’re not having the contention in closed-door meetings that you would expect to see if you thought that Mitch McConnell’s effort was going to be successful,” McCarthy told a crowd at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
In other words, Sen. McConnell told states to ignore the EPA’s plan, but states are ignoring Sen. McConnell instead.
As Glen Hooks, the director of the Arkansas chapter of the Sierra Club recently said, “Suing the EPA might make for good politics, but it’s not good for Arkansas. The EPA’s Clean Power Plan can be a boon for Arkansas’s economy if we have the courage to handle it right.”
“It is going to happen,” said McCarthy. ”We have the legal—not just right and authority but responsibility—to do it. People expect us to do it. I don’t see any utility thinking we’re not going to do it. So the politics are one thing and reality is another.”
McCarthy added that she expects reductions in 2030 will be “much higher by the time we get there.”
This would of course put a crimp in Sen. McConnell’s lofty ambitions for his latest senatorial term. Shortly after his re-election in November, he told the Lexington Herald-Leader that his top priority is “to try to do whatever I can to get the EPA reined in.”
Yet the Clean Power Plan, if implemented, would put the U.S. on a clear course for meeting the emissions goals of this year’s Paris Climate Summit. And, in the opinion of Michael Greenstone, director of EPIC, the CPP was instrumental in the landmark deal between President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping to reduce and peak their carbon emissions respectively.
“I think the impact of the Clean Power Plan can’t be overstated,” Greenstone told Forbes. “My view is that it led to the agreement with China in November. It led to China agreeing to reduce carbon emissions. The consequence was that it changed how people thought about what could possibly happen in Paris and that the world might actually begin to confront climate change in a meaningful way.”