While Politics Swirls, Clean Power Keeps On
February 16, 2016
As the dust settles following last week’s stay of the Obama Clean Power plan, it’s clear that work will continue on the transition from fossil fuels. The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has added another wrinkle. (see below)
Most importantly, almost 200 countries have recently signaled that the age of fossil fuels is coming to an end. Smart companies, regulators, and pragmatic politicians know this, and will continue the process.
Two days after the U.S. Supreme Court halted the Environmental Protection Agency’s signature climate change rule, Administrator Gina McCarthy struck a decidedly optimistic tone, vowing to support ongoing state efforts to shift toward a cleaner power sector.
“We’ll move forward. We’ll get this done. We’ll have the [Clean Power Plan]. We’ll continue our work together,” McCarthy vowed Feb. 11 at a joint meeting of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners and the National Association of State Energy Officials.
Although the Clean Power Plan, which limits carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector in each state, won’t go into effect while the rule faces legal challenges from 27 states and several utility and industry groups, McCarthy said the EPA will continue to support state efforts to comply with the rule on a voluntary basis.
“It doesn’t preclude states, tribes and utilities from continuing to act on climate,” McCarthy said. “They’re already saying they’re going to keep moving forward. We have Colorado, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and others have already stood up and within 24 hours of this decision have said for them nothing has changed.”
The state’s biggest utilities said they are moving toward compliance. Xcel Energy, Minnesota’s largest power company with 1.2 million electric customers, recently said it has positioned itself to comply using a 15-year plan to boost investment in wind and solar energy and replace two coal-burning units.
A spokesman from Minnesota Power told the Star Tribune that the company “is actively involved in the state meetings regarding the [Clean Power Plan] implementation. Overall, we believe that we are well positioned … because of the many early steps our company has taken to reduce emissions including adding significant renewables to our fleet and the conversion of a smaller coal plant to natural gas and the planned economic idling of another.”
North Dakota, which considers the EPA rule illegal, will nevertheless remain engaged with Minnesota in clean power planning, said Dave Glatt, the state’s chief of environmental health.
“We’ll cooperate with Minnesota, but that goes the other way,” Glatt said. “If we decide to develop a plan that’s different, we would expect the surrounding states to respect what we do.”
North Dakota remains committed to coal, but Glatt said that with or without the EPA plan, the role of coal will change.
“Multistate utilities are all engaged in how they can generate electricity better, greener, working toward a future that has reduced carbon emissions,” Glatt said. “I don’t see that changing.”
The search for likely nominees is already underway. Politico has a shortlist, as does the National Law Journal. DC Circuit Court judge Sri Srinivasan — described as a “nominee in waiting” by a 2013 New Yorker article — tops several of the lists. SCOTUS blog argues a female nominee, such as attorney general Loretta Lynch, is more likely.
Srinivasan’s court is due to hear the Clean Power Plan case and he might have to recuse himself if nominated, potentially complicating the outcome, Greenwire says. Apart from this small wrinkle, however, the DC Circuit Court is expected to uphold the Clean Power Plan, reports Vox.
If that happens, the Supreme Court would have to decide whether to make its own ruling on the Clean Power Plan. If Scalia’s replacement is delayed and the Supreme Court splits 4-4, then the ruling of the lower DC court is automatically affirmed.
This means Scalia’s death has significantly boosted the chances of the Clean Power Plan coming into force, reports Bustle, with several other outlets carrying similar arguments.