‘Assume the rule will survive,’ former EPA chief tells states

Source: Amanda Reilly, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, October 22, 2015

Former U.S. EPA Administrator William Reilly said today the Clean Power Plan would survive legal challenges, urging regulators to start writing state plans.

Reilly — who was President George H.W. Bush’s EPA chief — criticized Republican elected officials who have publicly opposed EPA’s bid to reduce the power sector’s carbon footprint and said it would be a “bad idea” to not write state implementation plans, or SIPs, to comply with the program.

“Move ahead with planning and assume the rule will survive,” he told an Environmental Council of the States meeting in Washington, D.C.

Finalized in early August, EPA’s Clean Power Plan aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. While Reilly said he was “under no illusion that meeting the objectives of the Clean Power Plan will be easy or straightforward,” he said he believed EPA had put forth a flexible final program that would allow for collaborations between states and faster adoption of renewable forms of energy.

In his speech today, Reilly criticized congressional Republicans broadly for not believing that climate change was a problem.

“Many of the governors take a similarly dim view of the science of climate change and also would repudiate the rule,” he said. “Several governors and legislatures have said they will not allow their regulators to submit state implementation plans. That would be a bad idea.”

Reilly cast the decision of writing a state implementation plan as a choice between following the law or politics. He warned that in states that don’t submit plans, Congress had sent an “unmistakable message” through the cooperative-federalism framework of the Clean Air Act that EPA would step in to protect public health with a federal implementation plan.

“I suspect that in the end, none of the governors and attorneys general … want to see the agency write their implementation plan,” he said. “They may be partisan, but they’re not stupid.”

Fifteen states filed a lawsuit to block the draft of the rule, and when the final version was unveiled, they petitioned for an emergency stay. When the rule is published in the Federal Register, their challenges will no longer be premature, and opponents are likely to file petitions for review and ask the court to stay the rule.

While he said the Clean Air Act was far from an ideal tool to address climate change, Reilly said that EPA was working within the authority given to it by Congress to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Reilly said that opponents who are pushing for a stay will be hard-pressed to prove to a court that the rule will cause immediate damage, since any effects are likely to be far in the future. He said that he expected the rule would hold up against the various legal challenges.

“My own expectation is even if elements of the rule are disapproved,” he said, “most of what it contemplates will survive.”

In addition to his work at EPA, Reilly has served as president of the World Wildlife Fund and currently sits on the board of Texas-based Energy Future Holdings Corp.

Paul Bailey, senior vice president of federal affairs and policy for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, told regulators at the ECOS meeting to not rush into making plans, arguing instead that the rule had a “very good chance” of getting struck down.

“How far do you go to make irrevocable commitments considering this program could be overturned in court?” Bailey said.

Reilly praised electric utilities for steps they’ve already taken to reduce carbon dioxide emissions but said the power sector, as a major generator of CO2, must move further and faster to avert “potentially catastrophic climate events,” he said.

Quoting Pope Francis’ encyclical calling for moral action to address climate change, Reilly said he believes state air regulators are the “unsung heroes on whom we all depend” and that the politics would catch up to actions they take to address climate change.

“The culture is moving ahead of the politics on climate, and where culture leads, the politics eventually and inevitably follows,” Reilly said. “The clean power rule is on the right side of history.”