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The Clean Power Plan and Environmental Justice: Part Two

Climate Justice

Yesterday in this space, I discussed how stringent Clean Power Plan targets are critical to achieving significant aggregate co-pollutant reductions that will indirectly benefit many overburdened communities. Today, I turn to classic environmental justice issues: the distributional effects of the plan and its community engagement provisions.

As I explained in my short essay in CPR’s policy paper, The Clean Power Plan: Issues to Watch, it is difficult for EPA to directly control the plan’s distributional effects given the realities of an interconnected grid and the states’ important implementation role. Environmental justice groups had suggested that EPA require states to do an environmental justice assessment of their state implementation plans. The Plan acknowledges the importance of localized co-pollutant impacts on communities of color and low-income communities and “encourages” states to evaluate the impact of their plans of vulnerable communities and ensure that they benefit from the rule’s implementation. It did not, however, require such an assessment.

Nonetheless, the preamble suggests EPA’s strong support for considering co-pollutant impacts in developing state implementation plans. EPA notes that states are required to engage in long-term planning to reduce criteria pollutants, and observes that: “Multi-pollutant strategies that incorporate criteria pollutant reductions … jointly with strategies for reducing carbon dioxide emissions from affected EGUs needed to meet Clean Power Plan requirements … may accomplish greater environmental results with lower long-term costs.” The agency states that the Clean Power Plan implementation process creates an opportunity “to consider the most effective means of meeting … obligations while limiting or eliminating localized emission increases that would otherwise affect overburdened communities.”

Moreover, to facilitate state-level assessments, EPA conducted a “proximity analysis” that identified the percentage of low-income and of-color communities within 3 miles of all existing power plants. The analysis, which is available on the EPA website’s “Clean Power Plan Community Page,” revealed that a higher proportion of low-income and of-color communities reside near power plants in urban areas, while a higher proportion of low-income communities reside near power plants in rural areas. EPA suggests that the proximity analysis will assist both states and community groups in evaluating the impacts of alternative plan options. In addition, EPA has committed to providing training and resources to help states and communities engage in environmental justice assessments.

And, although EPA merely “encouraged” rather than required state-level assessments, EPA has indicated that, once the rule is being implemented, it will assess whether the CPP, combined with other air quality rules, is leading to improved air quality and whether localized impacts need to be addressed. The preamble did not, however, provide details about how EPA would work with the states to respond to evidence of localized impacts.

EPA took a stronger stance on inclusive participation. The Clean Power Plan directly requires state implementation plans to explain how the state is engaging vulnerable communities in the state implementation planning process. The agency may be hoping that, by pushing states to develop participatory and inclusive planning processes, the states will be more accountable and responsive to their vulnerable communities. 

Climate Justice

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