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Planning for Deep Decarbonization

Deep in the heart of state and regional environmental and energy agencies, engineers, economists, scientists, and lawyers are working hard to develop comprehensive climate action plans (CCAPs). Created by the Inflation Reduction Act, EPA’s Climate Pollution Reduction Grant (CPRG) program is funding a range of state and subnational planning and implementation measures, including the CCAPs, which are due in 2025.

In our recent issue brief, Comprehensive Climate Action Plans: What’s a Greenhouse Gas Reduction “Measure”?, we explore a key question: What is the nature of the “actions” that planners should include in their climate action plans? Or, to use the program’s term, what’s a climate “measure?” In preparing their CCAPs, planners may debate whether the measures should be general or specific, and whether they should just refer to the technological shifts we need — like more EVs — or also include the legal mechanisms for achieving them — like rebates, or grants, or sales requirements. How planners frame their climate “measures” will shape how well we can assess the plans and their impacts and, relatedly, the degree to which the planning process provides a meaningful forum for addressing critical policy choices.

The CPRG Program

The Inflation Reduction Act appropriated $250 million for two sets of climate planning grants to states, Tribes, and other subnational entities, including metropolitan areas. Forty-five states, dozens of metropolitan areas, and almost 100 Tribal participants signed up and have completed the first phase: Priority Climate Action Plans outlining actions that are ready for lift off.

The second phase, to complete the Comprehensive Climate Action Plans by 2025, differs substantially from the first phase. As the name suggests, the program contemplates “comprehensive” plans for this round. The plans must quantify emissions, set medium- and long-term emission reduction targets, and develop “measures” for meeting the reduction targets.

Clues to Defining “Measures”

EPA’s guidance document provides little direct information on the nature of expected measures. However, a couple of the other required plan components indirectly suggest EPA’s expectations. EPA requires the CCAPs to identify whether the planning entity has sufficient legal authority to implement the measures they have included. That suggests that the planning entity should articulate its planned policy mechanisms, not just state its planned technological shifts. For example,  a measure would not just set a target for “25 percent passenger electric vehicles by 2030,” but would include the policy mechanisms for achieving that shift, like a manufacturer sales requirement coupled with a consumer rebate program.

Another clue derives from the guidance document’s environmental justice provisions. The guidance requires planners to demonstrate the measures’ environmental justice benefits and risks. If planners include only very general measures, and do not specify how the goals will be achieved, then their environmental justice assessments will be guesswork. In order to determine location-specific outcomes, planners have to develop measures that are specific enough to lead to those outcomes. Moreover, in many instances, impacts on environmental justice communities could not be realistically determined without defining legal mechanisms. Taking the passenger EV goal, planners cannot determine the impact on environmental justice communities unless the measures actually address how and to what degree EV ownership would be facilitated in these communities.

The Benefits of Spelling Out Specific Policy Frameworks

Providing enough specificity to identify the environmental justice implications of the CCAPs’ measures will encourage planning entities to consider environmental justice policies as they develop their plans. Moreover, it will enhance public participation, furthering compliance with the guidance’s requirement that planning entities meaningfully engage with low-income and disadvantaged communities. If the CCAP measures are too general to predict their benefits or risks, then communities will not have the information they consider necessary to their meaningful participation.

In addition, the planning process provides an all-too-rare setting for cross-agency deliberation. If planning entities’ plans remain vague and the agencies do little to frame their policy mechanisms, then key strategic decisions will fall to the agencies’ siloed departments. Because so many climate actions implicate multiple sectors, collaborative cross-agency policy mechanisms developed through the CCAP planning process could be more successful than having individual departments make the key decisions later in the implementation process.

Of course, planning entities face considerable time pressure, and only so much can be debated and resolved before the plans are due in 2025. And, even if planners establish relatively specific policy frameworks in the planning process, much will remain to be resolved in subsequent implementation steps within specific agencies. That said, the CCAP process provides an unprecedented opportunity for states, metropolitan governments, Tribes, and other entities to develop a vision for the future and begin to collaborate on strategic and beneficial policies to achieve a clean energy transition.

Check out Comprehensive Climate Action Plans: What’s a Greenhouse Gas Reduction “Measure”? for more.

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Alice Kaswan | June 13, 2024

Planning for Deep Decarbonization

Deep in the heart of state and regional environmental and energy agencies, engineers, economists, scientists, and lawyers are working hard to develop comprehensive climate action plans (CCAPs). Created by the Inflation Reduction Act, EPA’s Climate Pollution Reduction Grant (CPRG) program is funding a range of state and subnational planning and implementation measures, including the CCAPs, which are due in 2025. In our recent issue brief, Comprehensive Climate Action Plans: What’s a Greenhouse Gas Reduction “Measure”?, we explore a key question: What is the nature of the “actions” that planners should include in their climate action plans? Or, to use the program’s term, what’s a climate “measure?”

Alice Kaswan, Catalina Gonzalez | May 21, 2024

Defending and Influencing State Climate Justice Investments

States like California face sobering budget shortfalls, and their governors and legislatures are grappling with how and where to make cuts. These debates cast a spotlight on the critical importance of state budgets to an equitable clean energy future.

Daniel Farber | May 2, 2024

Judicial Deference to Agencies: A Timeline

The U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering whether to overrule the Chevron doctrine. Chevron requires courts to defer to an agency’s reasonable interpretation of an ambiguous statute. We should know by the end of next month whether the current conservative super-majority on the Court will overrule Chevron. In the meantime, it’s illuminating to put the current dispute in the context of the last 80 years of judicial doctrine regarding deference to agencies on issues of law. As this timeline shows, the Supreme Court’s engagement with this issue has been long and complex.

Federico Holm | May 1, 2024

Permitting Reform and the Incidence of NEPA as a Source of “Delays”

Since the passage of landmark legislation like the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law during the Biden administration, we’ve repeatedly heard that we’re at a critical junction: There is a need to expand and accelerate environmental, climate, and clean energy policy implementation and opportunities to do so, but the pathway toward this goal will be plagued by significant delays. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) has become a common scapegoat in this fight, with critics charging that the sometimes lengthy and complicated environmental review process NEPA requires is the main thing holding up decarbonization and the clean energy transition. This has led to calls from across the political spectrum for “reforming” the statute. This assumption, however, misrepresents what happens on the ground.

Climate Change Protest showing a sign that says "there is not planet B"

Daniel Farber | April 29, 2024

Climate Policy and the Audacity of Hope

The bad news is that we’re not yet on track to avoid dangerous climate change. But there’s also good news: We’ve taken important steps that will ease further progress. We should resist the allure of easy optimism, given the scale of the challenges. Neither should we wallow in despair. There’s a good basis for hope.

air pollution

Daniel Farber | April 25, 2024

EPA’s New Power Plant Rules Have Dropped. What Happens Next?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a cluster of new rules designed to limit carbon emissions from power generators. Once upon a time, the presumption would have been that the rules would quietly go into effect, until someday a court rules on their validity. These days, we can expect a lot of action to begin almost right away.

Daniel Farber | March 28, 2024

The New EPA Car Rule Doesn’t Violate the Major Questions Doctrine

In West Virginia v. EPA, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Obama-era Clean Power Plan. The heart of the ruling was that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had engaged in a power grab, basing an unprecedented expansion of its regulatory authority on an obscure provision of the statute. Conservative groups have claimed since then that virtually every government regulation raises a major question. But the doctrine cannot be read that broadly. In particular, the doctrine does not apply to the emission standards for cars that EPA issued last week. As EPA explains in its prologue to the rule, the car standard is very different from the Clean Power Plan.

Sophie Loeb | March 27, 2024

North Carolina Needed an Emissions Reduction Plan. They Asked a Utility Company to Create It.

Today, the Center for Progressive Reform is publishing a new policy brief. Missing the Mark: How North Carolina’s Decarbonization Efforts Fall Short and How to Fix Them examines the pitfalls of North Carolina’s decarbonization plan (known as the Carbon Plan and developed by Duke Energy) and alternative models to address those shortcomings.

Daniel Farber | March 26, 2024

Chevron Gets the Headlines, But State Farm May Be More Important

The Chevron doctrine requires judges to defer to an agency’s interpretation of a statute if that interpretation is reasonable. The State Farm case, which is much less widely known, requires courts to defer to an agency’s expert judgment unless its reasoning has ignored contrary evidence or has a logical hole. As you probably already know, two cases now before the Court will probably result in abandoning or revamping Chevron. But the “abortion pill” case that will be argued today will test the Court’s adherence to State Farm. Will the conservative Justices stand by State Farm even when doing so expands access to abortion?