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David Weiskopf’s Blog

Polluter-Backed Bills Seek to Block Missouri's Path to a Clean Energy Future

David Weiskopf

Posted May 1, 2014 in Curbing Pollution, Green Enterprise, Solving Global Warming

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Missouri stands at an energy crossroads. Already home to over 68,000 green jobs as of 2011, the Show-Me State is showing no signs of stopping there: it ranked among the top ten states for new clean energy jobs announcements in 2013, and by the end of 2014, the solar power industry alone will have added over 3,700 new jobs and $415 Million to the state’s economy. Missouri utility customers are poised to save hundreds of millions of dollars on their electric bills, thanks to energy efficiency investments made under the Missouri Energy Efficiency Investment Act.

But secretive national polluter front groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and giant corporate interests like Peabody Coal have other plans for Missouri. ALEC legislators have been pushing bills and resolutions in statehouses in the Midwest and across the country that would make it harder for states to exercise their sovereign authority to implement the federal Clean Air Act. Unfortunately, Missouri has been subject to more than its fair share of the barrage of bad bills.

Most notably, the Missouri House of Representatives has passed a bill, HB 1631 that would seek to hamstring the Missouri Department of Natural Resources’ ability to implement a flexible, low-cost plan to implement federal carbon pollution standardsunder the Clean Air Act. This bill is now making its way through the Missouri Senate, where cooler heads will hopefully prevail.

A strong carbon reduction implementation plan could have major benefits Missouri beyond the carbon reductions it would achieve.

NRDC has proposed a way for these standards to spur states to significantly reduce carbon pollution from burning coal and natural gas, while tremendous flexibility for states to implement the law in ways that can be tailored to each state’s individual circumstances. By applying a system of emissions reductions that can include, among other measures, investing in cost-effective energy efficiency, states can create implementation pathways that will create thousands of jobs and lower electricity bills for their citizens. Our analysis is based on the same power system modeling software that many utilities use, and it shows that the benefits of cutting pollution from dirty fuels can outweigh the costs by between $21 billion and $53 billion in 2020!

In Missouri, 80% of the state’s electricity comes from burning coal, despite the fact that it is not a coal-producing state. As a result, Missouri has the 8th highest carbon dioxide emissions in the country, even though it is 18th in population. According to the American Lung Association, “if you live in St. Louis City County, the air you breathe may put your health at risk” due to the high concentrations of ozone and particle pollution caused in part by the areas aging and increasingly uneconomic power plants. Overreliance on coal also creates a major economic drag on the state, to the tune of more than $1.4 billion a year that leaves Missouri’s economy to import coal from other states.

HB 1631 seeks to steer Missouri down the wrong path.

With so much to gain from diversifying the state’s energy mix and reducing carbon pollution in Missouri, it is baffling that the state legislature would work to oppose these efforts with bills like HB 1631. It is doubly baffling when we consider that EPA has not yet even issued a proposed standard, and that the final standard is not expected until June of 2015. The state’s implementation plan will not be due until June of 2016 – over two years from now!

Nevertheless, HB 1631 is making its way through the Missouri Senate, and may very well end up on the Governor's desk. As bad bills like this one threaten to become bad laws, it may be time to go over some of the basics of how the Carbon Pollution Standards work, and how states’ roles fit in with the federal government’s role. To help clarify what this bill and ones like it are trying to achieve, here’s a brief Q&A on how the carbon pollution standards work and how bills like this seek to prevent them from working.

Q: What are the Carbon Pollution Standards?

The Environmental Protection Agency, under the congressionally-enacted Clean Air Act and supported by Supreme Court precedent, has the authority and responsibility to regulate carbon pollution that threatens the public health and welfare of current and future generations. Since existing fossil fuel-burning power plants are responsible for about 40% of America’s climate-disrupting carbon pollution, it is critical that EPA issue strong standards for these power plants. These standards are expected to be less stringent than standards for new power plants, but the reductions they require should be significant, and states are expected to have a lot of flexibility in deciding how to implement them.

EPA is planning to release proposed standards in June. There will then be a periodfor public comment and revision before the standards are finalized in June of 2015. States will then have another year before they are required to submit State Implementation Plans to the federal EPA.

Q: If the federal EPA is issuing the standards, why do states have to submit implementation plans?

The federally-proposed standards will provide states with emissions reductions targets. Until we see the proposal, we won’t know the exact targets, but we know they should be based on what can be achieved through the “best system of emission reductions.” The targets could take the form of a limit on the number of tons of carbon dioxide that polluters are allowed to emit, they could take the form of an emissions rate – how many pounds of carbon are allowed to be emitted per megawatt-hour of electricity the power plants produce, or they could take some other form.

Whatever targets the federal standard sets, states will have the opportunity to decide how they want to meet those standards. When the state determines what specific compliance tools it wants to use, and develops a plan showing how using that combination of tools will result in emissions reductions equivalent to what the federal standard requires, it submits its plan to the EPA for approval.

Q: What does all of this have to do with HB 1631?

Under the Clean Air Act, authority to craft a state implementation plan lies with the state air regulatory agency – in Missouri’s case, the Department of Natural Resources. The Clean Air Act does not put this power in the hands of state legislatures – it rests with the state air agency, with the understanding that these administrators know the state’s energy mix best, based on their long history of working with the regulated power plants.

HB 1631, and any bill like it, is an attempt by the Missouri legislature to restrict how the Department does its job in crafting a state implementation plan. One of the most problematic aspects of the bill is that it requires the agency to apply a methodology for determining what level of emissions reductions can be achieved that could turn out to be in conflict with what the EPA requires. If this turns out to be the case, it may become impossible for the agency to craft an implementation plan that meets federal requirements.

Q: What happens if Missouri or another state cannot submit an approvable state plan?

When a state does not submit a state implementation plan that meets minimum federal standards, the federal government (through the EPA) may implement a federal implementation plan instead.

States generally prefer to have a state plan approved. Disputes over whether or not a federal plan is required can lead to lawsuits that create expenses for taxpayers, regulatory uncertainty for companies, and can ultimately drive up the cost of compliance with federal law for Missourians.

Under a state-crafted implementation plan, Missouri could develop regulations with input from state stakeholders and regulated entities, and pursue flexible compliance approaches that take into account Missouri’s particular energy needs and interests. A federal plan would provide no such state-specific tailored flexibility.

Governor Nixon’s leadership will be key to a bright energy future for Missouri.

Governor Jay Nixon has shown strong leadership on moving Missouri towards becoming an energy innovation hub. At the Advancing Renewables in the Midwest conference last month, he announced that his Division of Energy will spearhead an effort to develop a comprehensive energy plan for the state that will “chart a course to a sustainable and prosperous future.” By working with the EPA to ensure that these carbon pollution standards provide Missouri with the flexibility to help the state achieve major reductions in the lowest-cost ways, these standards can help put Missourians to work creating the next generation of clean energy jobs. In this way, it will be possible for Missouri and other states to improve the resiliency of our towns and cities, preserve our shared natural heritage, and protect the health of our kids and grandkids, while maintaining a more sustainable and more prosperous economy.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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