Full Throttle Reverse

What the Clean Power Plan Roll Back Means for Wildlife

The Administration has taken another step backwards in the effort to ensure a stable and safe climate for wildlife.  Administrator Scott Pruitt has announced that the Environmental Protection Agency plans to roll back the Clean Power Plan.  It is anticipated that EPA will repeal the plan and replace it with a significantly weaker one.

The Clean Power Plan is the first ever federal limit on carbon pollution from power plants.

By attempting to repeal the plan, Administrator Pruitt is seeking to wipe away an historic measure that would reduce harmful carbon pollution from the U.S. power sector – one of the top two sources of carbon pollution – 32% over the next thirteen years.  There is wide public support for the carbon reducing policies like the Clean Power Plan.

In response to the proposed roll back, the National Wildlife Federation President and CEO Collin O’Mara said:

In the wake of record-breaking and devastating hurricanes and wildfires, the pressing need for our leaders to take action to ensure a safe and stable climate for people and wildlife could not be more clear. Further, The Supreme Court has been crystal clear that the EPA has a statutory responsibility to act. Yet today, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence and legal obligations, the administration has willfully abdicated its responsibility to address the climate threat that imperils our communities, wildlife, and outdoor heritage.

Gutting the Clean Power Plan will remove mean more harmful carbon pollution and climate change. Photo by Avelino Maestas

We Need Climate Action for Wildlife

The Administration’s announcement completely disregards the climate realities facing wildlife and people.  With a September defined by record-breaking storms devastating the Gulf area, Florida and the Caribbean and mega-fires raging out West, the stark realities of changing climate are upon us.

In the face of this threat, wildlife cannot afford inaction.  For instance, coastal habitats are having to cope with sea-level rise, saltwater intrusion, and growing damage from storms as storm surge travels further inland.  Species like the piping plover and loggerhead sea turtle are already losing nesting habitat along the East Coast as beaches are washed away.

Compounding these threats, rising temperatures are changing precipitation patterns across the U.S. and are leading to more severe drought in some states, while also causing more extreme precipitation events in other states.  This is leading to warmer, shallower streams in some regions, and streams that are more prone to flooding and sediment pollution in other regions.  These changes are impacting freshwater fish species that depend on the cool, clean water they have adapted to.  Trout habitat is predicted to decrease by about 50 percent in the interior western U.S. by the 2080s due to changes in temperatures and other factors.

The impacts also put at risk our vibrant outdoor economy – which is worth $877 billion.

The interior west could see half of its trout habitat disappear by 2080 due to climate change. Photo by Mark Lance.

Another Step Backwards

Sadly, the proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan is just the latest step in a series of actions of reality defying steps to undermine climate progress.  The Administration has also joined Syria as the only country to rebuke the Paris Climate Agreement to take measures to reduce carbon pollution and work towards a goal of a safe and stable climate; instructed agencies to essentially ignore climate impacts in decision-making; disassembled scientific efforts to study and assess climate risks; left key science posts unfilled and proposed eliminating funding for climate science and renewable energy research; canceled an initiative to update federal coal leasing to account for coal’s true costs, including impacts from climate; and the list goes on.

What Repealing the Clean Power Plan Means

Administrator Pruitt cannot just repeal the Clean Power Plan via fiat.  The Clean Power Plan is legally required by the Clean Air Act to curb the pollution that causes climate change –greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide – that is emitted by the country’s power sector.  The obligation under the Clean Air Act to clean up this pollution has been affirmed by two Supreme Court cases.

Thus, EPA is mandated to reduce power sector carbon pollution using the “best system of emissions reductions” which considers cost, practicality and other factors.

Using this standard, the plan Administrator Pruitt is attempting to dismantle diligently constructed a flexible and effective approach that was tailored to each state’s particular energy mix.  The plan relied on three primary “building blocks” to set state specific emissions targets: (1) measures at existing coal plants to make them more efficient; (2) switching from coal to cleaner burning natural gas at some plants; and (3) increasing use of renewables.

These measures are in line with and would facilitate market trends that are already occurring, as power producers move from costly, inefficient coal to cleaner sources like wind and solar energy.

In order to deconstruct this flexible and forward looking structure, the EPA must go through formal public notice and comment rulemaking and show that it has complied with the law.  EPA cannot simply walk away from this obligation or replace it with hollow measures that do not protect our climate.

It is anticipated that EPA will seek to implement a plan that only achieves minor reductions at coal power plants themselves.  But such reductions will fall far short of what is needed to protect wildlife from climate change, and far short of what could cost effectively be achieved by industry.  It will almost certainly not meet the law’s requirements.

In order to ensure a safe and stable climate for wildlife, we need solutions like wind and solar energy. Photo: Deepwater Wind

A Path Forward for Wildlife

As this tragic climate exacerbated summer and fall weather events have made clear, we cannot afford to slow progress on reducing harmful carbon pollution.  With the Administration stubbornly opposed to addressing this pressing issue, leadership from Congress and continued leadership from states and localities to reduce emissions is paramount for the future of wildlife.

Looking backwards is not the way forward.  We need to tell Administrator Pruitt to keep the Clean Power Plan in place as it is.  And we need to urge Congress to enact a market-based price carbon that will fairly account for the true costs of energy generation while providing additional revenue.

[UPDATE:  The proposed rule, which was signed by Administrator Pruitt on October 10, 2017, only seeks to repeal the Clean Power Plan and leaves the question of possible replacement unanswered.   As expected, the proposed rule contends that any attempt to regulate considering generation shifts to cleaner sources is illegal.  However, there is ample legal support that not only is such an approach legal, but that simply regulating coal plants is not the best system of emission reduction.]

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