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Walton Shepherd’s Blog

My Positive Comments to the EPA on the Clean Power Plan

Walton Shepherd

Posted August 6, 2014 in Curbing Pollution, Health and the Environment, Solving Global Warming, U.S. Law and Policy

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Last week, thousands of U.S. citizens took part in the democratic process, by making comments to EPA during several listening sessions held around the country. The comment-making process was part of the EPA's proposal to finally address, through the Clean Power Plan, our nation's largest single source of carbon pollution and climate change: existing power plants.

Like the vast majority of speakers last week, I supported the EPA's efforts in my comments, though I also suggested ways the proposed rule could be improved: specifically, I suggested ways we can better take advantage of one of the most direct and economically beneficial ways of reducing carbon pollution: by expanding our nation's clean energy economy. 

Here are my comments:

Good morning administrators, and thank you.

My name is Walton Shepherd, a native of West Virginia and an attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

I commend the EPA for the Clean Power Plan, as a commonsense fulfillment of its lawful duty to address our country’s single largest source of dangerous climate-changing carbon pollution. I will address the EPA’s rightful inclusion of cost-effective renewable energy as a compliance option, as well as identify ways EPA’s treatment of renewable energy should be improved.

But first I urge the EPA not be distracted by the tired, predictable chorus of special interest chicken littles who warn of a crushed economy, killed jobs, and being plunged into medieval darkness: these big polluter canards have been trotted out every time the EPA has followed the law of the land and reined in dangerous, costly pollution, and every time, those special interest untruths are proven wrong when instead GDP continues to grow, innovation flourishes, and the air we all breathe is made cleaner at a low cost. Already, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s rote attack on this proposal has been debunked, as has a similar claim by the National Mining Association, both earning the notorious four full Pinocchios from the Washington Post.

These big polluters also routinely decry any subsidy of zero-emissions renewable energy and conveniently leave out that their massive profits are themselves subsidized by taxpayers (to the tune of $4 billion a year), and always have been since their subsidized buildout, indeed monopolization, in the early 20th century.

Without such subsidies, dirty energy sources would have never been the dominant energy supply they are today. Similarly, politicians who oppose this proposal, who disingenuously deny science, who disregard Central Appalachian coal’s structural decline, and who vote dirty in exchange for campaign contributions, are themselves yet another subsidy to dirty energy we all pay for, through higher energy bills and through every extreme-weather cleanup caused by climate change.

Big polluters’ refusal to innovate into the 21st century obliges them to now get out of the way, to allow the true innovators and job creators in non-climate-changing clean energy to lead the way, to clean our air, to create homegrown jobs, and to grow a healthy, durable economy, so that the rest of the world may follow in America’s footsteps.

The EPA, then, is correct to recognize these American innovators and job creators in “Block 3" of the Clean Power Plan, because renewables are already a thriving and growing industry whose electric generation is growing exponentially.

Consider:

Already, 3 states get over 20% of their energy from wind, six get at least 12 percent, and Xcel energy in Colorado has supplied 60% of its system with wind power.  Steady wind energy was crucial to keeping the lights on and prices from skyrocketing during the polar vortex. The wind industry employs 80,000 people, the cost of wind energy dropped by almost half between 2009 and 2012, and 70 percent of wind power components are MADE IN AMERICA.

The solar industry employs over 140,000 Americans, and California recently produced the equivalent of 5 large power plants from solar energy. Due to innovation, the price of solar power dropped 60 percent between 2011 and 2013.

So it is not a matter of whether we can rely upon renewables and at low cost, it’s a matter of whether we will, and the EPA has rightly recognized that we will, if states choose to do so under the Clean Power Plan.

However, the EPA can improve the proposed third building block, to more accurately reflect what American clean energy is, in reality, already achieving and how much it can cost-effectively grow.  The levels of renewable energy availability and quantity assumed by the EPA are far too low, based as they are on a metric that doesn’t accurately reflect reality: rather than basing the renewable energy component of available emissions reductions—“Block 3” —on arbitrary and unambitious state renewable portfolio mandates, as EPA has proposed, Block 3 should instead be based on proven resource availability on a state and regional basis (according to the proposal’s alternative approach).

EPA should also include the full potential of distributed solar and off‐shore wind in its analysis of what is possible and cost-effective.

In closing, the EPA is right to include renewables in the Best System of Emissions Redcutions (BSER) standards for each state, but BSER should also fully reflect all that is currently possible from innovative job creators who will once again export cutting edge energy technology to the rest of the world.

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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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