Playground Politics: Political Polluters Don't Need to Follow the Rules
December 18, 2014
Ken Kimmell / The Union of Concerned Scientists
Twelve states are suing the EPA to block new rules on global warming pollution. And even if they lose, there are a string of bills in state houses around the country to gut progress on clean energy and protect fossil fuel interests -- in effect, to roll back years of work and victories you and I have made possible.
WASHINGTON (December 17, 2014) -- Here's what a Texas lawmaker recently said:
"What if we just said no [to the Environmental Protection Agency's new rules on power plant pollution]? There is a precedent in Texas to say we're not going to be under the federal government's boot."
He might as well have said, No! We don't have to follow the rules! That sort of thing is barely acceptable on the playground -- as a way of setting national policy, it's downright dangerous.
Yet it's happening now: Twelve states are suing the EPA to block new rules on global warming pollution. And even if they lose, there are a string of bills in state houses around the country to gut progress on clean energy and protect fossil fuel interests -- in effect, to roll back years of work and victories you and I have made possible.
That's why UCS is launching an ambitious new campaign next month to make sure states make real progress on clean air and renewal energy.
States have to devise plans to comply with new EPA rules that cut global warming pollutants from power plants. If we don't have the right resources now, our opponents will beat us to the punch, and we'll miss out on this opportunity to move states forward. Please don't let that happen.
Our analysts and outreach staff need resources to take our hard hitting, science-based campaigns to even more states -- to beat back attacks on the EPA and pass proactive legislation to ramp up wind and solar development and energy efficiency. . . for science, clean air, and our families' health.
Here's how UCS will use your support to make a difference. Here's how we'll win:
We'll mobilize the 20,000 scientists and technical experts in our Science Network to collaborate on new research and share their findings with lawmakers and regulators.
We'll organize more than 450,000 individuals who've signed on as activists across all 50 states to make sure elected officials know they're being watched, and ask them to follow the science on global warming, clean energy, and more.
We'll work in key states to help them adopt strong clean energy and climate policies to meet the Environmental Protection Agency's new standards for power plant global warming emissions, and using the momentum to create a tipping point for national climate action.
We'll expose misinformation from corporate and political interests in the media, in Congress, and in state houses -- so decision makers know the difference between science fact and corporate fiction.
Those are the same ways UCS members helped secure landmark fuel economy standards for cars and trucks, impose limits on global warming emissions from coal-fired power plants, and cut sulfur pollution from gasoline -- all in the last two years.
It's also how we helped kill nearly every single legislative attempt to roll back support for wind and solar development in the states. We even beat the Koch brothers in their home state of Kansas.3
And it's how we'll convince key states to strengthen their reliance on clean and renewable energy. On January 1, we're immediately ramping up our work in three states where legislators are poised to adopt stronger renewable energy policies -- Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota. That's just the beginning of our state-based work in 2015. The number of states we can reach depends on your support right now. . . .
Legislative sessions open up in early January. We either get ahead of the fossil fuel industry or we don't.
The only disadvantage we face when compared to the people who protect corporate interests and deny climate science is resources. It's just that simple. We've got the science, the experts, the everyday people fighting for their futures and their families' health. We're making a difference, but with your extra generous support right now, we can -- we will -- do so much more.
A lot of groups have a role to play in fighting global warming. Ours is unique. We are the leading national organization built by and for scientists and people like you who look to science first when faced with threats like sea level rise, persistent drought, and toxic pollution. We are the trusted experts on climate science and clean and renewable energy. And you are the power behind each of our campaigns.
Just recently, Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) said he "always follows UCS because they're always right." We appreciate that, and I can tell you -- with your support -- we always strive for accuracy and integrity in the defense of science. I'm proud of that, and hope you are too.
The new year is just around the corner. Please, help us start out strong.
Ken Kimmell is the President of the Union of Concerned Scientists
Litigation Looms over State CO2 Hearings
James Osborne / The Dallas News
AUSTIN (September 30, 2014) -- For years, Texas has maintained a reputation as a fierce opponent of federal air pollution law. And with a new law to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by power plants expected to be finalized next year, state lawmakers are debating whether to defy the US Environmental Protection Agency again.
There is little doubt the state will sue over the law, which is intended to reduce global warming. At least a dozen other states have already. But the question at the center of hearings that opened Monday is whether Texas should start working on a Plan B should the litigation efforts fail.
Politicians on both sides of the aisle have been quick to make known their disdain for the rule. At Monday's hearing before the House Environmental Regulation Committee, Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, asked a state attorney how the state could fight "this heavy-handed, onerous legislation imposed on the state of Texas."
"What if we just said no? There is precedent in Texas to say we're not going to be under the federal government's boot," he said.
The matter is expected to ultimately be decided by the US Supreme Court. But a ruling could be a ways off. In the meantime, states are supposed to file their plans to cut emissions by 2016. And Texas has one legislative session before then, beginning in January.
The worry among many within the Legislature and the power industry is what happens if the court battle fails. Were Texas to ignore the federal law, the process of permitting power plants could be taken over by the EPA.
That happened six years ago when Texas decided to ignore another federal air pollution law. The EPA assigned a small staff to handle Texas' air permits, and a process that took around three months quickly was dragging out over 18 months.
The standoff ended last year when the Legislature ordered the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to begin regulating the federal greenhouse gas law.
At Monday's hearing, power executives presented a unified front of opposition, characterizing the carbon rule as unfeasible, hugely expensive and probably illegal. But behind the scenes, the attitude is less confrontational and more pragmatic.
Power companies declined to speak on the record about their position regarding a state plan. But John Fainter, president of the Association of Electric Companies of Texas, said in an interview this month that an EPA takeover here could prove disastrous.
"I don't see how you can stick your finger in their eye right now," he said. "The Supreme Court says [EPA officials] have jurisdiction over greenhouse gases. So you probably need to do some working with it."
What shape would a Texas plan to cut carbon emissions take? On the table is a cap-and-trade program like Europe employs, in which companies earn credits for not polluting that can then be sold to other polluters. Or Texas could opt for a straight carbon tax, under which companies pay taxes based on their emissions.
One idea being shopped around is simply taking the federal mandate and giving individual companies caps, said Jim Marston, Texas director of the Environmental Defense Fund.
"The power companies are interested. No one really wants the federal government to come in," he said.
At Monday's hearing, though, much of the focus was on how the standards being imposed on Texas compared with other states.
Under the current writing of the law, Texas will be asked to cut its carbon dioxide emissions rate by close to 40 percent. That's more than all but 11 other states.
According to EPA data, Texas, which generates a lot of electricity through cleaner-burning natural gas and wind farms, had one of the lower per-capita emissions rates in the country in 2012. It ranked in the bottom third. By comparison, emission rates in Kentucky and Montana, which burn more coal, were almost twice as much as in Texas.
"It sounds to me, if you're like Texas and you worked hard to increase your renewable sector, you have a higher standard," Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring, said at Monday's hearing.
If Texas were to meet the carbon rule, state officials warn the price tag will be large.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas is working on a precise estimate on price impact, due in late November. But Texas Public Utility Commission Executive Director Brian Lloyd testified Monday that efforts to keep power costs low were "under severe threat."
The EPA put the total increase in electricity costs for the country at between $7 billion and $9 billion a year. At Monday's hearing, Luminant chief executive Mac McFarland said his company's own study put the cost at $10 billion a year for Texas alone.
But then there are the wider economic impacts, which in the case of natural gas-rich Texas are expected to be positive.
A July report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C., think tank, said Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma would see a net economic benefit of $16.7 billion between 2020 and 2030.
At Monday's hearing, state officials did little to tip their hand on whether Texas will work to meet the carbon rule. And the question of how they might do so was a touchy subject.
Sam Newell, a Boston consultant who regularly advises state power officials, began to testify about how the state might amend its power market rules to adjust for the carbon rule. But he did so with a preface.
"I'm going to speak briefly about compliance strategy. I gather that's not the central line of inquiry right now," he said.
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