The nation’s state legislatures are about to become embroiled in a battle of epic proportions as they line up on either side of the debate over the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.
The struggle could define the future of, and indeed the very existence of, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wisc.), 49 members of the Wisconsin Legislature and the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin are part of a nationwide, state legislative backlash against the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.
EPA officials proposed the plan in June 2014. It is designed to reduce carbon greenhouse gas emissions from fossil-fuel fired power plants.
The EPA believes by 2030 this rule would cut CO2 emissions from the nation’s power plants by approximately 30 percent from emission levels in 2005.
“This goal is achievable because innovations in the production, distribution and use of electricity are already making the power sector more efficient and sustainable while maintaining an affordable, reliable and diverse energy mix,” according to an EPA press release.
Walker and the others on his side of the issue see the EPA plan, which strictly regulates emissions generated by the nation’s power plans, as typical of the agency’s overreach.
Another group of 14 states — California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Minnesota, New York, New Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington — mobilized by the Georgetown Climate Center are on the other side of the debate, arguing the EPA’s Clean Power Plan will give them “the flexibility to build on proven policies to cost-effectively achieve meaningful carbon pollution reductions.”
“Climate impacts are already affecting Minnesota citizens, businesses, farmers and communities. Increased extreme weather is resulting in increased flooding and drought events,” John Linc Stine, commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, also wrote in a letter to the EPA.
“The need for action is urgent, and the Clean Power Plan represents a significant step forward to address this challenge. It does so by building on what states like Minnesota and power companies are already doing to reduce carbon pollution,” he added.
The correspondence is part of an avalanche of more than 1.5 million comments that buried the EPA by a Dec. 1 deadline to submit opinions on the Clean Power Plan.
Walker complained in his letter to the EPA that the agency was not recognizing approximately $10.5 billion already invested to scrub the air they breathe in Wisconsin.
“The PSCW (Public Service Commission of Wisconsin) preliminarily estimates a cost of compliance with this proposal of $3.3 to $13.4 billion for our state alone,” Walker wrote.
He added that does not include the costs related to new infrastructure that would be associated with the EPA Clean Power Plan.
A letter submitted by 49 members of the Wisconsin Legislature claims the EPA regulations would have “catastrophic consequences” for thousands of families who would see jobs at the state’s coal-fired energy plants disappear.
However, Robert Klee, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, wrote in the Georgetown Climate Center letter that families in his state have been hurt by the costs of climate change.
“Storms like Hurricane Sandy have made it clear to our residents that climate change has a steep price tag,” wrote Klee.
”At the same time, our experience has shown that we can take actions now to protect the health and safety of our citizens while boosting the economy,” he added.
Gov.-elect Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.) argued the new rules would increase the cost of generating power in Arkansas in his letter to the EPA expressing his opposition to the Clean Power Plan.
He made the EPA’s new regulations one of his campaign themes in August 2014 and raised the possibility of judicial action.
“As governor, I expect the General Assembly and attorney general to be supportive of this effort to protect Arkansas jobs and ratepayers. This is essential to keeping our electric rates affordable and to attract manufacturers to Arkansas,” said Hutchinson.
“I want to be the ‘Jobs Governor’ and keeping competitive energy rates is essential for Arkansas to compete and win the battle for jobs. I fully expect this case to reach the U.S. Supreme Court and Arkansas’s voice needs to be heard,” he also said.
Other arguments aside, David Littell, commissioner on the Maine Public Utilities Commission, said what is most important is that the EPA’s approach works.
“Our experience shows that states can achieve significant, cost-effective reductions through the EPA’s approach. Our states collectively reduced emissions 23 percent in the past eight years using this kind of system — and some of our states achieved double that rate of reduction,” he said.
However, what Republicans don’t like, Republicans may not have to live with much longer. The last day of December could be the final day of the winter of their discontent.
Republicans didn’t only sweep to power in Washington in the November 2014 elections. They crushed Democrats at the state level too.
The GOP controls 69 of the 99 state legislative chambers in the nation, post-November 2014, and 31 states.
Conservatives in state legislatures across the U.S. can be expected to fight against the EPA and those who are supporting these new regulations.
The Washington Post reported Dec. 8 that fossil-fuel industry lobbyists were in private meetings the week before with conservative state legislators at an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) convention.
The lobbyists and lawmakers looked at several model bills that could be introduced in state legislatures next year that are intended to give more power to states to delay or block White House environmental standards.
“There is a palpable anger at the EPA in America,” Nate Bell, a Republican state legislator from Arkansas, told the Washington Post. “Mention them, and you will get laughed out of any coffee shop or feed store in my district.”
When the calendar turns 2015, Bell, Walker and those on their side of the debate will have the support of a Republican majority in the House and the Senate. That will include U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who is expected to be appointed the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
A longtime opponent of the idea that humans are responsible for climate change, Inhofe — who is seen as the anti-science guy on Capitol Hill by liberals — weighed in on the debate over the EPA Clean Power Plan, too.
Not only does he oppose the new regulations, Inhofe argued forcefully in a letter to the EPA that the agency has overstepped its boundaries by even writing the new rules.
“The clear language of the Clean Air Act unambiguously prohibits the promulgation of this proposed rule,” Inhofe wrote.
“When Congress gave EPA the authority to require state-by-state pollution controls on existing sources under section 111(d) of the Act, it was extremely sensitive to the possibility of subjecting sources to double-regulation by both the states and the federal government. As such, Congress expressly prohibited EPA from requiring state-by-state regulations of categories of sources where it had already established a national standard,” he added.
Environmentalists are worried. The New American reported actress Barbra Streisand finds the very idea of Inhofe chairing the Senate committee that oversees the EPA “frightening.”
“God help us! This man is going to head the Committee on the Environment in the U.S. Senate. Like giving a fox the keys to the chicken coop,” Streisand wrote in the first of two tweets.
“This wld be hilarious if it weren’t so frightening. I thank Sen Inhofe for singling me out as a voice against the perils of climate change.”