Clean Power Plan

Stanford professor Mark Z. Jacobson proposes powering the world with wind, water, and solar (WWS) pictured above in place of fossil fuel plants (coal, oil, and natural gas).

The Clean Power Plan is a policy aimed at combating anthropogenic climate change (global warming) that was first proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency in June 2014, under the administration of US President Barack Obama.[1] The final version of the plan was unveiled by President Obama on August 3, 2015.[2]

The final version of the Clean Power Plan is the first to set a national limit on carbon pollution produced from power plants. The plan would lower the carbon emitted by power generators.[3]

The Clean Power Plan is designed to strengthen the trend of clean energy by setting standards for power plants and goals for states to cut their carbon pollution.[4]


The final version of the plan aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from electrical power generation by 32 percent within twenty-five years relative to 2005 levels. [5] The plan is focused on reducing emissions from coal-burning power plants, as well as increasing the use of renewable energy, and energy conservation.[6] White House officials also hoped that the plan would help persuade other countries that emit large amounts of carbon dioxide to officially pledge to reduce their emissions at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference.[7]


The plan will require individual states to meet specific standards with respect to reduction of carbon emissions.[8] States are free to reduce emissions by various means, and must submit emissions reductions plans by September 2016, or, with an extension approval, by September 2018.[9] If a state has not submitted a plan by then, the EPA will impose its own plan on that state.[9]

The EPA divided the country into three regions based on connected regional electricity grids to determine a state's goal.[10] States are to implement their plans by focusing on three building blocks: increasing the generation efficiency of existing fossil fuel plants, substituting lower carbon dioxide emitting natural gas generation for coal powered generation, and substituting generation from new zero carbon dioxide emitting renewable sources for fossil fuel powered generation.[11]

States may use regionally available low carbon generation sources when substituting for in-state coal generation and coordinate with other states to develop multi-state plans.[11]


EPA estimates the Clean Power Plan will reduce the pollutants that contribute to smog and soot by 25 percent, and the reduction will lead to net climate and health benefits of an estimated $25 billion to $45 billion per year in 2030. That includes the avoidance of 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks among children and 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths.[12] EPA projects that the plan will save the average American family $85 per year in energy bills in 2030, and it will save enough energy to power 30 million homes and save consumers $155 billion from 2020-2030. The plan would create 30 percent more renewable energy generation in 2030 and help to lower the costs of renewable energy.[13] It also would create hundreds of thousands of jobs, according to the NRDC.[14]

2015 Announcement

Obama announced the plan in a speech given at the White House on August 3, 2015. In his announcement, Obama stated that the plan includes the first standards on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants ever proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency.[15] He also called the plan "the single most important step that America has ever made in the fight against global climate change."[15]

President Obama called his plan "a moral obligation" and made reference to the encyclical Laudato si' by Pope Francis.[16]

The policy has been described as "[Obama's] most ambitious climate policy to date."[9] In response to Obama's 2015 announcement, hundreds of businesses voiced support for the plan, including eBay, Nestlé, and General Mills.[17] To show support for the Clean Power Plan, 360 other companies and investors sent letters to their governors. The companies and investors signing the letter represent all 50 states.[18] In 2016, 2/3 of electric utilities support the plan.[19]

Court Challenge

In the June 18, 2014 proposed rule, EPA argued that because the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendment is ambiguous, EPA's interpretation is entitled to judicial deference.[20] EPA found the statute to be ambiguous because the language in the United States Code is from a May 23, 1990 House amendment that conflicts with a never codified April 3 Senate conforming amendment.[21]

After the U.S. Supreme Court in King v. Burwell upheld the Affordable Care Act on June 25, 2015, however, the EPA adopted a more aggressive statutory interpretation.[20] In the final rule announced on August 3, the EPA argued that the Senate's language unambiguously allows it to regulate, while the House language in the U.S. Code should be ignored because it is unreasonable under the Clean Air Act's "comprehensive scheme."[20]

Opponents immediately declared the Plan was illegal, attempting to sue before the agency finalized the rule.[22] Only ten days after the EPA announced the final rule, twenty-seven states petitioned the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit for an emergency stay.[20] Peabody Energy hired Laurence Tribe, President Obama's mentor at Harvard Law School, to author a brief which was later acclaimed on the Senate floor.[23] Professor Tribe would go on to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee that the EPA's energy policy was "burning the Constitution."[24]

Challengers argue that EPA overstepped its legal authority in issuing the CPP, in regards to the power plants covered by the plan, and that the scope of the "building blocks" for action go beyond standards applied to specific electric generating units, as called for by the Clean Air Act.[25] Eighteen states have joined the litigation in support of the EPA's plan.

Supreme Court Halts Enforcement

On February 9, 2016, the United States Supreme Court ordered the EPA to halt enforcement of the plan until a lower court rules in the lawsuit against the plan.[26] The 5-4 vote, split along ideological lines, was the first time the Supreme Court had ever stayed a regulation before a judgment by the lower Court of Appeals.[27]

As of July 2016, several states - including Republican-held ones such as Wyoming, South Carolina, Virginia, Arizona, Idaho, and New Jersey - are moving forward to meet the Plan's requirements although sometimes indirectly, regardless of open opposition.[28]

D.C. Circuit Court Hears Argument

On September 27, 2016, the case against the CPP was heard in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The chief judge of the court, Merrick B. Garland, recused himself, as he is also President Obama's US Supreme Court nominee.[29]

The argument has sparked debate about both the constitutionality and the political effects of the Clean Power Plan. The New York Times Editorial Board published an editorial arguing that the D.C. Circuit should uphold the plan.[30]


  1. "Clean Power Plan for Existing Power Plants". EPA. Retrieved August 3, 2015.
  2. "Climate change: Obama unveils Clean Power Plan". BBC News. August 3, 2015. Retrieved August 3, 2015.
  3. "A new national Clean Power Plan". Environmental Defense Fund. Retrieved 2015-12-11.
  4. EPA,OAR,OAA, US. "Clean Power Plan for Existing Power Plants". Retrieved 2015-12-11.
  5. Foster, Peter (3 August 2015). "Barack Obama unveils plan to tackle greenhouse gases and climate change". The Telegraph. Retrieved 3 August 2015.
  6. Malloy, Allie (August 3, 2015). "Obama unveils major climate change proposal". CNN. Retrieved August 3, 2015.
  7. Roberts, Dan (August 3, 2015). "Obama unveils sweeping cuts to power plant emissions: 'We have to get going'". The Guardian. Retrieved August 3, 2015.
  8. Malloy, Allie (August 3, 2015). "Obama unveils major climate change proposal". CNN. Retrieved August 3, 2015.
  9. 1 2 3 Plumer, Brad (August 3, 2015). "Obama just released his most ambitious climate policy yet — the Clean Power Plan". Vox. Retrieved August 3, 2015.
  10. "States' Reactions to EPA Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards". Retrieved 2015-12-11.
  11. 1 2 "FACT SHEET: Overview of the Clean Power Plan". United States EPA. Retrieved 1 September 2015.
  12. EPA,OAR,OAA, US. "FACT SHEET: Clean Power Plan Benefits". Retrieved 2015-12-11.
  13. "Climate Change". The White House. Retrieved 2015-12-11.
  14. "The Pros and Cons of Obama's New Carbon Rule". The Fiscal Times. Retrieved 2015-12-11.
  15. 1 2 Perkins, Lucy (3 August 2015). "President Obama Unveils New Power Plant Rules In 'Clean Power Plan'". NPR. Retrieved 3 August 2015.
  16. Davenport, Coral; Davis, Julie Hirschfeld. "Move to Fight Climate Plan Started Early". The New York Times (August 4, 2015 on page A1). Retrieved 13 February 2016.
  17. Vaughan, Adam (3 August 2015). "Obama's clean power plan hailed as US's strongest ever climate action". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 August 2015.
  18. "Business Support for EPA Clean Power Plan Grows — Ceres". Retrieved 2015-12-11.
  19. "Utility Dive report: The State of the Electric Utility 2016". Utility Dive. 2016. p. 3. Retrieved October 29, 2016. More than two-thirds of respondents think the Environmental Protection Agency should either strengthen the Clean Power Plan or hold to its current emissions targets and timetable. Less than 15% want the plan scrapped entirely and opposition was greatest among electric cooperatives.
  20. 1 2 3 4 Recent Regulation: The Clean Power Plan, 129 Harv. L. Rev. 1152 (Feb. 10, 2016).
  21. Laurence H. Tribe, Why EPA's Climate Plan Is Unconstitutional, HARV. L. TODAY (Mar. 20, 2015) discussing S. 1630 101st Congress (1990).
  22. In re Murray Energy Corp., 788 F.3d 330, 333 (D.C. Cir. 2015)
  23. Davenport, Coral. "Laurence Tribe Fights Climate Case Against Star Pupil From Harvard, President Obama". The New York Times (April 7, 2015 on page A1). Retrieved 13 February 2016.
  24. Hearing entitled "EPA's Proposed 111(d) Rule for Existing Power Plants: Legal and Cost Issues", before the Subcommittee on Energy and Power of the Hose Committee on Energy and Commerce (March 17, 2015).
  25. "E&E's Power Plan Hub: Legal Challenges -- Overview & Documents". Retrieved 2015-12-11.
  26. Wolf, Richard (9 February 2016). "Supreme Court blocks President Obama's climate change plan". USA Today. Retrieved 9 February 2016.
  27. Liptak, Adam; Davenport, Coral. "Supreme Court Deals Blow to Obama's Efforts to Regulate Coal Emissions". The New York Times (February 10, 2016 on page A1). Retrieved 13 February 2016.
  28. Davenport, Coral. "Fighting Obama's Climate Plan, but Quietly Preparing to Comply". The New York Times (July 19, 2016). Retrieved 25 July 2016.
  29. Coral Davenport (September 25, 2016). "Obama Climate Plan, Now in Court, May Hinge on Error in 1990 Law". NYT. Retrieved September 26, 2016.
  30. The Editorial Board (2016-09-30). "A Flimsy Legal Attack on Clean Air". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-10-01.

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