Earlier this month, the EPA released its finalized Clean Power Plan, which places the first ever limits on carbon pollution from America’s power plants. The new rules would cut dangerous carbon pollution 32 percent by the year 2030 from 2005 levels and along with previously enacted standards for limiting emissions from our cars and trucks constitutes the largest step ever taken in the U.S. to curb climate change. The completion of the plan is the culmination of many years of work from EPA and its many stakeholders, and more than 4.3 million public comments.
The Clean Power Plan is also the biggest public health initiative announced in decades. The dangerous pollution from burning coal exacerbates climate change, worsens air quality and heightens allergy sensitivity, triggers asthma attacks and disrupts proper respiratory and cardiovascular function. Climate change itself is a serious environmental and health issue. The global annual average temperature has increased by more than 1.5 degrees F between 1880 and 2012 and the 14 hottest years on record have all occurred within the past 15 years. Scientists have linked increasing temperatures to increased storms and extreme weather events, such as the severe drought and wildfires now being experienced in the Western U.S., and more powerful hurricanes and record heat waves that have plagued many of our communities.
Under EPA’s new rules, each state is required to create an implementation plan to meet the new standards. The Clean Power Plan sets flexible and achievable standards that provide states with the opportunity to design their own individual path to a more cost-effective and cleaner energy system. States must submit an initial plan for compliance by 2016, but can request an extension to complete their plans by 2018. The state plans must include emission limits that power plants must meet starting in 2022 and that are in full effect by 2030.
Energy is an especially hot button issue here in Michigan because our renewable energy and energy efficiency standards are set to expire at the end of this year. Lawmakers in Lansing are split down party lines on what the best legislative approach is moving forward. The Democrat’s plan is a more commonsense approach and takes into account the need for strong renewable energy and energy efficiency standards for a healthy and prosperous future for Michigan, its citizens and the economy. Their plan includes increasing the current renewable portfolio standard to 20 percent by 2022, which would help Michigan meet the new EPA standards.
Republican legislative leaders have introduced a package of bills that would repeal renewable energy and energy efficiency standards, as well as gut the state’s solar net metering program. They propose instead that utilities file Integrated Resource Plans (IRP) with the Public Service Commission that could in theory result in higher investments in clean energy, but that so far lack any guarantees or consequences if for example utilities fall short of Clean Power Plan targets. Most alarming, one Republican plan also redefines clean energy to include the burning of hazardous waste and trash, while another simply links the definition to any plant (e.g., coal generating) that is currently in compliance with their federal air permit. These legislative leaders have also publicly derided the EPA’s Clean Power Plan as simply a “DC knows best crusade,” with no acknowledgement of the climate or public health benefits it would provide.
The Governor, on the other hand, has been more reasonable, withholding judgement on the EPA’s new rule while state energy and environmental quality staff study the details. The Governor and his administration have also come out strongly in support of increasing the state’s mix of clean energy and energy waste reduction efforts, suggesting Michigan should have 30 - 40 % clean energy by 2025. Another key piece of the Governor’s plan includes the prevention of energy waste. Governor Snyder believes Michigan should meet at least 15 percent of its energy needs by eliminating energy waste through energy efficiency measures.
Luckily, the EPA’s Clean Power Plan does not require states to get their legislature’s approval, so the Governor could still develop a strong implementation plan without new legislation being passed. However, the legislature could make it easier by improving the state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy policies, or harder by enacting any of the bills that would move us backward on clean energy--or that specifically try to prevent the state from completing a plan. In that case, the EPA could still implement a federal plan for the state, but that would likely prevent us from creating an approach that would maximize opportunities unique to our state like building on our successful solar and wind programs that have resulted in the creation of thousands of jobs. The Ecology Center will continue working to educate citizens, elected officials and other civic leaders about the importance of the Clean Power Plan, and we hope you’ll join us in showing your support for a state compliance plan that includes ambitious and strong clean energy standards.
UPDATE: September 1st, 2015
Statement from Mike Garfield, Ecology Center Executive Director
The Ecology Center is encouraged today by the Snyder administration’s announcement that it will develop a state implementation plan to comply with the recently finalized federal Clean Power Plan rules for reducing carbon emissions from power plants. We agree with the administration that development of our own state plan provides the greatest opportunity for taking advantage of Michigan’s unique assets and promoting jobs in the emerging clean energy industry. It also provides the opportunity to develop Michigan-specific projects to benefit local communities and address particular needs, like reducing health-harming pollution in low-income communities. And finally, development of a state plan allows for the opportunity to create a robust public and stakeholder engagement process that helps to ensure that all ideas for reducing emissions of carbon from the power sector are considered. The Ecology Center is committed to help support the state in that public engagement process.