The Clean Power Plan: Continuing Momentum after the Supreme Court's Stay

Alice Kaswan

Feb. 10, 2016

The Supreme Court’s February 9 stay of the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan may have removed the states’ immediate compliance obligations, and it will undoubtedly remove some pressure for action in states resistant to change.  Nonetheless, the extensive data and fundamental state and regional planning processes generated by the Clean Power Plan (the Plan) may continue to bear fruit even as the Plan remains in legal limbo.

The Clean Power Plan has already triggered progress.  To determine feasible reductions on existing power plants, EPA spearheaded extensive analyses of regional capacities to shift to less-polluting natural gas and to develop renewables.  In addition, EPA gathered detailed information on the demographics around existing power plants to help states assess the environmental justice implications of their energy choices.  EPA’s research and the resulting data can provide essential information for state and federal policies regardless of the Plan’s status.

The Clean Power Plan also set state and regional comprehensive low-carbon energy planning in motion, and it is conceivable that at least some of that momentum will continue.  The Plan highlighted the regional nature of the grid and pushed states to consider how their low-carbon energy choices could be expanded by both in-state and out-of-state reduction opportunities.  Breaking through the silos that have often divided environmental regulators and energy planners, the Plan required cooperation and the development of integrated strategies, cooperation that might endure regardless of the Plan’s requirements.

To be sure, states fundamentally resistant to reducing carbon, like states committed to continued reliance on coal-fired power due to their political and economic reliance on an in-state resource, are unlikely to continue energy planning that would require them to take advantage of lower-carbon out-of-state resources or invest in renewable energy.  Nonetheless, if states continue to make use of EPA’s data and continue the momentum created by already-initiated integrated planning efforts, EPA’s efforts may not have been entirely in vain.

Also read Victor Flatt's response to the Supreme Court's stay.

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