States Striding Toward a Low-Carbon Future

At a webinar last week, “A Fresh Outlook on the Clean Power Plan,” Synapse’s Dr. Elizabeth A. Stanton hosted Senior Associate Sarah Jackson and Harvard Law’s Kate Konschnik for a discussion of the current outlook for the Clean Power Plan and what efforts toward decarbonization are still happening in the United States.

Last month, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals brought the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan back into the spotlight following the Supreme Court’s stay of the rule back in February. The D.C. Circuit took the unusual step of bypassing the three-judge panel assigned to the case and instead will hear arguments in front of the full circuit of eligible judges. While this delays the hearing date from June 2 to September 27 of this year, it also eliminates the need to wait for the losing party to decide whether to seek rehearing in front of the full court (and for the court to hear the case if rehearingis granted) before the case can move on to the Supreme Court. Assuming the high court takes the case, it is likely that it will issue a decision prior to the  Clean Power Plan’s final deadline for submitting state compliance plans (September 2018). States that have continued planning for compliance would be at a distinct advantage should the rule be upheld.

Synapse has been presenting analysis regarding the potential benefits of implementing the Clean Power Plan since its release last summer. These include customer bill savings, reduced climate and health impacts, and increased support for renewable energy and energy efficiency in low-income communities. Many states, regional grid operators, and utilities have continued to plan for a low-carbon future in spite of the stay of the Clean Power Plan. This is driven in part by commitments to achieving significant reductions in carbon dioxide (CO2) over the next few decades (such as the six New England states’ agreement to achieve a 35-45 percent reduction in CO­2 by 2030). However, many states are making progress toward Clean Power Plan targets as they work to comply with other environmental mandates, such as the Regional Haze Rule, the new ozone air quality standard, and new rules regarding toxic wastewater from power plants. (Arkansas recently acknowledged that due to its recent decline in coal use, it is already meeting its 2030 Clean Power Plan emission target.)

These regulations and goals, together with the lowest gas prices in many years, are already causing the electric sector to move toward cleaner, lower-emitting resources and away from uneconomic coal generation. And while recent studies from entities such as the North American Electric Reliability Corporation and the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration have shown that the  Clean Power Plan is still needed to drive the development of additional clean energy and energy efficiency resources in order to achieve significant nationwide CO2 reductions, it appears that the costs of compliance compared to a business-as-usual case will continue to fall—and may even be offset by the significant benefits the Clean Power Plan can offer.


Eager for more information on the future of the Clean Power Plan, integrated resource planning, and renewable energy generation? We invite you to join us throughout June as we continue our Spring Webinar Series. Each week, Dr. Elizabeth Stanton will moderate a conversation with Synapse experts about a pressing topic in the electricity sector. Visit our webinars page to register.