Legal fight over Trump coal plant rule shows just how divided red and blue states are


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LEGAL FIGHT OVER TRUMP COAL PLANT RULE SHOWS JUST HOW DIVIDED RED STATES AND BLUE STATES ARE: The legal battle over the Trump administration’s emissions rules for coal plants reveals the stark divide between states on climate change policy.

Attorney General Letitia James of New York led a coalition of 22 mostly Democratic states and seven local governments suing the Trump administration Tuesday in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals for gutting President Barack Obama’s signature plan for reducing coal plant emissions to combat climate change.

Most of the states on the lawsuit are already transitioning to cleaner energy sources, and some have laws, known as renewable portfolio standards, mandating that the state use a certain amount of zero-carbon electricity over a period of time.

These include California, Washington, Colorado, Maine, and New Mexico, all of which, along with New York, have passed bills over the past year aimed at getting 100% of their state’s electricity from carbon-free sources like wind, solar, or nuclear power by midcentury.

Plaintiffs on the lawsuit also include most of the members (all but New Hampshire) in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade program covering the power sector in 10 East Coast states.

“The lineup in this lawsuit almost perfectly reflects the partisan division in the United States,” Columbia University environmental law professor Michael Gerrard told me. “Red states want less regulation of greenhouse gases; blue states want more.”

The two sides have switched roles: The blue-state coalition stands in contrast to the 26 states that sued in 2015 to block the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan that the Trump administration is replacing. West Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas, and other red states led that charge. The Supreme Court stayed the Clean Power Plan before it could be implemented.

West Virginia’s Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey sought to exploit the divide Tuesday, issuing a statement vowing to fight the “big government power grab” lawsuit against the Trump administration power plant rules.

“Attorneys general are very partisan and political creatures,” Barry Rabe, a professor of public policy at the University of Michigan, told me. “So the coalitions are largely partisan and largely based on production and non-production states.”

More signs of division: The few states that switched positions on the two lawsuits further illustrate the division.

Governors or attorneys general representing four states that sued to block the Clean Power Plan — New Jersey, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Colorado — now oppose the ACE rule after those offices flipped from Republican to Democrat.

Five of seven states whose governors’ offices changed from Republican to Democratic have joined the lawsuit against Trump: Illinois, Michigan, New Mexico, Maine, and Wisconsin.

Three of the states suing Trump have Republican governors — Maryland, Massachusetts, and Vermont — but Democratic attorneys general.

The consequences for policy: The Trump administration rule, unlike the Clean Power Plan, does not set a specific target for the power sector to reduce carbon emissions, giving states the authority to write their own plans for reducing pollution at individual plants by pursuing efficiency upgrades.

Joe Goffman, an environmental law professor at Harvard University and former EPA official who helped write the Clean Power Plan, told me the Trump administration replacement rule further discourages red states from pursuing climate change policies.

“The ACE rule is all but inviting states to go their own way if the don’t like ACE’s narrowly prescribed requirements while subtly undermining states that are seeking to pursue more ambitious power plant CO2 reduction strategies,” Goffman said.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, however, has stressed that the ACE rule would not prohibit states from fulfilling clean electricity goals.

Christi Tezak, the managing director of ClearView Energy, a consulting group, noted that many blue states have toughened their climate change policies in spite of the Trump administration’s deregulatory agenda.

“Those already pursuing lower-carbon strategies have not abandoned them; indeed many have strengthened them in what we at ClearView have characterized as the ‘rollback rebound,’” Tezak told me.

Only Congress can close divisions: The only way to resolve the differences between the states, according to several energy experts, would be for Congress to pass a federal policy to combat climate change, such as a carbon tax or clean electricity mandate.

Some of the nation’s largest utilities, along with grid operators, have called for lawmakers to settle the differences between states. One problem with having multiple state climate policies is it risks the potential of so-called “carbon leakage,” when there is an increase in emissions in one state as a result of emissions reductions by a second neighboring state with a strict climate policy.

“It’s hard for me to see how this lawsuit will change anything,” Noah Kaufman, a research scholar at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, told me. “I’m afraid there is no way around the need for new federal climate legislation.”

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TEN ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS ALSO SUE TRUMP’S EPA: Ten environmental groups filed their own lawsuit against the EPA on Wednesday seeking to overturn the Trump administration’s “dirty power plan.”

The suit, also filed in the D.C. Court of Appeals, argues that the EPA failed its legal obligation under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon emissions.

“Trump’s Dirty Power Plan will make people sick and dig us even deeper into the climate crisis,” said Clare Lakewood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the group’s on the lawsuit, along with the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, and others. “Its only purpose is to make fossil fuel CEOs richer, no matter how deadly and dangerous that is for the rest of us.”

The key legal question: The legal quagmire about the government’s authority to regulate carbon emissions results from uncertainty about the tools the Clean Air Act gives regulators to combat climate change.

The relevant section of the law, section 111(D), says carbon pollution rules must reflect “the best system of emission reduction” — without defining what that means.

Democratic states and environmental groups contend Trump EPA’s preference for plants to make efficiency upgrades falls short of that standard, which they say envisioned a systemwide rule allowing for a wholesale shift away from coal to gas and renewables.

TRUMP ATTACKS DEMOCRATS FOR PLANS TO PHASE OUT FOSSIL FUELS: President Trump attacked Democrats running for president Tuesday at an official visit to a Pennsylvania petrochemical plant, accusing his competitors of not caring about workers at the facility because they propose phasing out fossil fuels.

“I don’t think they give a damn about Western Pennsylvania,” Trump said of Democratic candidates. “Do you? I don’t think so. Virtually every leading Democrat has vowed to eliminate fossil fuels.”

“They want to wipe out our oil,” he added. “They want to wipe out our natural gas industry as well. Allowing other countries to steal our jobs.”

The plant Trump visited, being built by oil and gas giant Shell, will convert natural gas produced in the Marcellus and Utica shale regions into plastic to be used in the manufacturing of consumer products.

Putting Trump’s claims in context: While Trump was correct most Democratic candidates are aggressively targeting coal, oil, and gas to reach net-zero emissions by midcentury, many also have plans to help fossil fuel workers find clean energy jobs.

Trump hyperbolically claimed that wind farms “kill all the birds” and that when the wind stops blowing, electricity shuts down.

He also went off track in saying the petrochemical plant he visited “would have never happened without me,” even though Shell decided to proceed with the project during the Obama administration.

The president also claimed “we don’t need [oil] from the Middle East anymore.” While the U.S. is the world’s largest combined producer of oil and gas, it is not expected to be a net energy exporter until 2020. The U.S. imported 277,000 barrels per day of oil from Saudi Arabia in the first week of August, according to data from the Energy Information Administration, importing more crude from that Middle Eastern country than any other nation except Canada.

TEXAS HEAT LEADS TO RECORD DEMAND FOR ELECTRICITY, STRESSING GRID: Extreme heat in Texas resulted in the state experiencing record demand for electricity Tuesday as people cranked their air conditioners, forcing the grid operator to declare an energy emergency for the first time since 2014.

Electricity prices temporarily reached $9,000 a megawatt hour, higher than anywhere else in the country, according to Bloomberg, as power reserves fellow below 2,500 megawatts, low enough to raise concerns about whether utilities would have to resort to rolling blackouts.

Grid operator Electric Reliability Council of Texas asked customers to conserve their energy use Tuesday afternoon, before declaring at 5:30 p.m. local time that it had returned to “normal grid conditions.”

Analysts said the price spikes demonstrate how dependent Texas has become on wind, which provides about one-quarter of the state’s generation capacity.

Wind power generation declined for three straight days, Bloomberg reported. Texas was the nation’s largest wind producer last year. As wind as gained, coal plants in the state have continued to close, losing market share to gas and renewables.

LONDON UNIVERSITY BANS HAMBURGERS TO FIGHT CLIMATE CHANGE: London’s Goldsmiths University is banning all beef products on campus to combat climate change.

The university announced the new policy as one of many green policies and initiatives that will be enacted at the start of the 2019 fall semester. The school aims to be carbon-neutral by 2025.

“The growing global call for organisations to take seriously their responsibilities for halting climate change is impossible to ignore,” said professor Frances Corner, the university’s warden.

“Declaring a climate emergency cannot be empty words,” Corner said. “I truly believe we face a defining moment in global history and Goldsmiths now stands shoulder to shoulder with other organizations willing to call the alarm and take urgent action to cut carbon use.”

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report last week finding that a “diversification” of the food system can reduce the risks from climate change, recommending people eat less meat in favor of more balanced diets featuring plant-based foods, such as grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.

The Rundown

Washington Post Extreme climate change has arrived in America. Here are the fastest-warming places.

Wall Street Journal Battle emerges over nuclear waste in America’s oil patch

Bloomberg On the brink of blackouts, Texas makes case for power plant boom

Tampa Bay Times Florida power companies ask state regulators to let them retreat from energy-saving goals

Calendar

THURSDAY | August 15

American Wind Week 2019 continues, lasting through August 17. During Wind Week, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) and supporters of wind energy highlight the “many ways that wind powers opportunity” at dozens of events across the country and online with #AmericanWindWeek.

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