Can We Really Afford the Affordable Clean Energy Rule?

This contribution to our What’s on your mind? blog series was written by Alexandra Cheek, a CCJ intern and geology student who is finishing up her degree at California University of Pennsylvania:

It seems as if the current administration has found its replacement for the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan in the Affordable Clean Energy Rule. Before I get into the details of how this plan may affect the country, here’s a little background:

  • On August 3rd of 2015 President Obama announced the Clean Power Plan (CPP).

    • The goal of this action was to provide “...strong but achievable standards for power plants, and customized goals for states to cut the carbon pollution that is driving climate change, the Clean Power Plan provides national consistency, accountability and a level playing field while reflecting each state’s energy mix.”

    • The plan provided a model for states to cost-effectively lower emissions to the standards, with the option for states to submit their own plans with EPA approval.

    • The EPA welcomed comment from states regarding how to finalize a single plan types that would be best or every state.

  • On March 28th of 2017 Trump signed an Executive Order on Energy Independence, putting the Clean Power Plan under review.

    • In October of 2017 the repeal of the CPP began and following public hearing it was finally repealed this past June and replaced with the Affordable Clean Energy Rule.

    • The goal of the Affordable Clean Energy Rule (ACE) is to “restore(s) rule of law, empower(s) states, and support(s) energy diversity”.

At the outset, the ACE plan actually sounds pretty great. I want my state to be empowered whatever that may mean, and energy diversity is great because there’s no single energy source that can provide sustainable and dependable energy to the entire United States. You can’t fault me for having a little healthy skepticism, though, considering the current EPA administrator Wheeler denies global climate change and previously worked as an attorney defending energy corporations.

The CPP was never actually enforced due to legal challenges, and the current administration is already facing its fair share: This week the Clean Air Task Force filed a suit on behalf of the American Lung Association and the American Public Health Association. These organizations’ biggest issues are with the increase in particulate matter that affects our most vulnerable populations, the children and elderly. The good news is that the EPA already has an obligation to protect these populations due to the Clean Air Act, the bad news is that they are redefining the standards. The Clean Air Act mandates that standards must reflect the best system of emissions reduction (BSER) for the pollutant; however, ACE has solved this problem by simply changing the BSER for power plants. The CPP used a few building blocks when it came to the BSER, one of which factored in the use of renewable energy. ACE, however, only uses onsite efficiency improvements as their BSER to establish emission standards, meaning that the emissions standard will be a lot less stringent. To put it into perspective, the goal of the CPP was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants 32% below 2005 levels by 2030, while the ACE rule is only forecasted to lower emissions by 1.5 percent at the most compared to no regulation. CPP was also our first real step towards emissions reductions as part of the Paris Agreement, which despite what President Trump might declare, we are still a part of, and cannot withdraw until 2020 (thanks to Article 28 of the Paris Agreement).

Bottom line, I turn my lights on, I drive a car. I am all for people having jobs in the energy industry. I’m also for transparency when it comes to potential human health impacts. The whole reason the CPP was ultimately stayed in Supreme Court is because a handful of energy corporations and two dozen states argued that the CPP could not regulate the amount of greenhouse gases through the Clean Air Act. Most of this claim is a result of corporations stating that the changes they would have to make would force layoffs and do more harm than good. The CPP was aggressive in its plan, but maybe that’s an indication of just how bad of shape we are in with our emissions in the first place. Global climate change is like a cancer. It’s aggressive and requires an even more aggressive treatment plan. We can’t change what we did to get to this point but we have every opportunity to change how we proceed and minimize our impacts as much as we can. That won’t happen by lowering our standards and juking the stats so that we look like we’re doing a good job.