How Will the Clean Power Plan Repeal Change Carbon Emissions for Your State?

Source: By BRAD PLUMER and NADJA POPOVICH, New York Times • Posted: Wednesday, October 11, 2017

It all depends on where you live. For California, repeal won’t make much difference. For West Virginia, it could matter a lot.

When the Obama administration unveiled the Clean Power Plan in 2015, each state was given individual goals to slash power sector emissions. The aim was to shift utilities away from coal in favor of cleaner sources like natural gas, wind, solar and nuclear to help address global warming.

Even though the rule has never taken effect — it was temporarily blocked by the Supreme Court in 2016 and is now slated for repeal by the White House — dozens of states were making that shift anyway, driven by economic considerations and local clean-energy policies.

But the Obama-era regulation would have pushed a smaller handful of other states, like North Dakota and Indiana, to cut emissions more deeply than market forces alone are doing. Without the Clean Power Plan, those states may not take more forceful action on climate change.

A new analysis from the research firm Rhodium Group breaks down which states appear to be still on track to meet their Clean Power Plan targets even after repeal and which are not. Nationwide, the group projected that emissions from electricity would fall 27 to 35 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 even without the plan — but could have declined even further if the rule had gone into effect.

25 states are likely to beat their targets.

Note: Vermont, Hawaii, and Alaska were initially excluded from the Clean Power Plan.

The repeal isn’t expected to change much in the short term for these 25 states.

Many Democratic-controlled states have pledged to implement the Paris climate agreement, even as President Trump vows to abandon it, and are drafting their own policies to curtail pollution from power plants. Oregon and New York plan to retire their last coal units by 2020. California’s legislature has authorized a sweeping climate program to decarbonize not just electricity, but transportation and buildings as well.

A number of Republican-controlled states that filed lawsuits to block the Clean Power Plan are also likely to meet their targets anyway. In Oklahoma, a glut of cheap natural gas from hydraulic fracturing has displaced coal power, and wind turbines now provide a quarter of the state’s electricity.

Brian Alford, a spokesman for OG&E, a utility in Oklahoma, suggested the trends show that “the industry can achieve meaningful CO2 reductions” without a complex federal rule. But some environmentalists argue that this just shows the original plan should have been even more ambitious.

10 states may be close to hitting
their targets but could miss.

The Rhodium Group analysis identified another 10 states that are reducing emissions in their power sector but might fall short of the Clean Power Plan’s original goals, depending on how technology and market forces evolve.

If, for instance, natural gas prices rise sharply in the future, existing coal plants in some states could suddenly become more competitive and run more often. (A recent proposal by the Energy Department to subsidize existing coal plants could also make a difference here.) And if the current growth in renewable energy slows unexpectedly, states like North Carolina and Maryland could end up with emissions higher than the Clean Power Plan would have required.

But, conversely, if natural gas remains cheap and the cost of wind and solar continues to fall sharply, these 10 states should hit their targets.

Ted J. Thomas, the chairman of the Arkansas Public Service commission, said that he expected Arkansas to beat the Clean Power Plan goals years ahead of the original 2030 deadline. But, he added, if the plan had remained in place and natural gas prices had risen, the state might have had to consider more “wrenching” changes to its power sector.

12 states may miss their targets.

With the Clean Power Plan repealed, 12 states may not meet the emissions goals laid out by the Obama administration. Some, like West Virginia, a coal-heavy state, would miss the targets by a large margin. Others, like Texas, are projected to just barely fall short. Those 12 states produced 40 percent of the country’s carbon emissions from power plants in 2014.

Analysts say that the Clean Power Plan would have had the biggest effect in these states, spurring utilities and state regulators to include climate policy in their decisions and potentially encouraging solar or wind to expand into regions where they are currently less prevalent.

“The C.P.P. would have forced every state to develop a power sector greenhouse-gas reduction plan, which likely would have resulted in a bunch of states opening up markets to solar in new ways — faster fossil plant retirements, renewable standards, etc.,” said Shayle Kann, head of GTM Research.

Not everyone is convinced that all of these states will miss the emissions targets. Bruce Nilles, senior director of the Beyond Coal campaign at the Sierra Club, said that Texas was currently considering the closure of another large coal plant, with more retirements possibly on the way. His group is trying to persuade utilities in the state that future climate regulations are inevitable, so they should accelerate investments in cleaner energy as a hedge.

“We think of this Rhodium Group analysis as a floor on what’s possible, not a ceiling,” Mr. Nilles said. The electricity sector is evolving so quickly, he added, that “a lot of states may end up surprising us.”