In a Sept. 4 news release, Colorado Attorney General Cynthia H. Coffman announced she will join a multi-state legal challenge to the Environmental Protection Agency’s use of Section 111(d) of the Clean Power Plan to mandate state regulation of greenhouse gas, or GHG, emissions by electric utility generating units, or EGUs, which make use of fossil fuels, such as coal and natural gas.
“The rule is an unprecedented attempt to expand the federal government’s regulatory control over the states’ energy economy,” Coffman wrote in the release. “The EPA appears unwilling to accept limits set by Congress in the Clean Air Act and, instead, is pushing its agenda forward through regulatory rewrites that overreach its legal authority.”
The legal challenge — originally filed by West Virginia and Texas and since joined by 24 other states, including Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and Nebraska, and a number of trade associations — was filed in the United States Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia after the federal government formally published the rule in the Federal Register on Oct. 23.
Oklahoma and North Dakota have filed separate lawsuits in opposition to the rule.
The final version of the rule mandates an approximate 7 percent reduction in GHG emission levels for existing U.S. coal-fired power plants and an approximate 22 percent reduction in GHG emissions for existing natural gas-fired plants.
And while we acknowledge the effort to reduce GHG emissions globally is important, we agree with Coffman’s opposition to the new EPA rule for the following three main reasons.
First, and as the attorney general points out, the rule is a potential regulatory overreach. The New York University School of Law’s Institute for Police Integrity noted in a 2013 report that “the language of section 111(d), and therefore the legal obligation or ability for the (EPA) to use that provision to regulate existing sources of GHGs, is not as clear as is often assumed.”
While the report suggests the scope of section 111(d) is limited to pollutants not already regulated in the Clean Air Act and that GHGs are not so regulated, it adds that “a careful reading of the text of section 111(d) … suggests that the agency may be precluded from using it to regulate many source categories, including EGUs.”
Second, implementation of the rule stands to come with significant financial and economic burdens, both on ordinary consumers and coal-producing states as a whole. Though President Barack Obama has said the average American family will save $85 per year on their energy bills upon full implementation of the plan in 2030, an analysis of electricity costs versus a switchover to renewable power sources suggests quite the opposite.
Currently, the United States gets about 4 percent of its electricity from wind and solar power. The Clean Power Plan proposes increasing that proportion to 28 percent by 2030, a sevenfold increase. A study of electric cost versus installed renewable capacity published by wattsupwiththat.com projects such an increase would actually amount to a quadrupling of consumer energy costs throughout the next 15 years, in many cases, further burdening those who are already struggling.
Additionally, full implementation of the accompanying emissions cuts will cost EGU’s billions of dollars, placing a crippling handicap on one of Colorado’s most important industries.
And finally, the benefits of implementing the Clean Power Plan are minuscule, at best. Testifying before a congressional committee in July, EPA administrator Gina McCarthy acknowledged implementation would result in only a 1/100th of a degree-Celsius reduction in global temperatures.
Questioned on this figure by U.S. Rep. Lamar S. Smith, R-Texas, McCarthy downplayed its significance, saying, “The value of this rule is not measured in that way. It is measured in showing strong domestic action which can actually trigger global action.”
So, in the words of the EPA administrator herself, the principle benefit of enforcing this costly, onerous and potentially illegal rule — and, in the process, heaping further financial burdens upon those least able to afford them — is to set an example for the world and hope the world follows.
The cost is too great, the rewards are too few and there’s a very real chance the action may not even be legal.
Coffman herself said it best:
“There are immensely important legal questions at issue regarding the EPA’s sweeping new regulation. The face of Colorado’s economy could be forever changed, and that will be reflected in lost jobs, higher utility rates and an altered energy industry. Before untold sums of public and private monies are spent on compliance with the Clean Power Plan, we need to settle the matter of whether it is even legal.”