Missouri Lawmakers move to block climate rule planning

Source: Emily Holden and Elizabeth Harball, E&E reporters • Posted: Thursday, March 17, 2016

Missouri lawmakers are pushing legislation to prohibit the state from planning for the Obama administration’s climate change regulation until a Supreme Court stay on implementing the rule is lifted.

Two separate bills are working their way through the state Legislature: One, which advanced this week, would suspend U.S. EPA Clean Power Plan activities imposing greenhouse gas standards for power plants until litigation is resolved. The other would halt activity only while the Supreme Court stay is in place.

It would also require the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which is in charge of the state’s response, to request an extension to submit a final plan if the rule is upheld.

Renew Missouri Deputy Director Mark Walter said agency officials testified in a public hearing last week that in the meantime they have ceased all work on the Clean Power Plan. He called the legislation more political than practical and noted that the agency’s decision could be costly for Missouri.

“DNR should be as prepared as possible to comply with the Clean Power Plan as soon as possible,” Walter said. “Just because the Supreme Court has put a stay on it doesn’t mean that the deadlines are going to change if that stay is lifted, and then we’re going to be behind the eight ball.”

The governor’s office and DNR did not return requests for comment. A halt to compliance activities would make Missouri the 20th state to suspend planning since the Supreme Court stay.

EPA has not said whether its schedule for states to submit plans and reach goals will change as a result of the stay, but critics of the rule have argued it is customary to “toll” deadlines, or postpone them to account for the length of any court action suspending implementation.

Another downside of suspending planning is jeopardizing the state’s ability to get extra credit under EPA’s Clean Energy Incentive Program for investing in energy efficiency in low-income communities and building up renewable energy early, Walter said.

Legislatures taking action

The House bill (H.B. 2543), passed yesterday by the House Standing Committee on Energy and the Environment, would bar planning work until all litigation is over — which could mean indefinitely.

The Select Committee on Utilities, which will take up the measure next, plans to revise it to match Senate legislation (S.B. 858), Walter said. That bill is awaiting floor action. House legislators are expected to amend their bill to match the Senate version.

Walter said House lawmakers are also drafting a budget that would prevent DNR from spending funds to work on a Clean Power Plan blueprint. Wyoming legislators passed a similar measure recently but did not prohibit state agencies from spending money to attend meetings and stay apprised of any need to write a plan. Wyoming’s Republican Gov. Matt Mead has expressed an interest in continuing planning work.

Aliya Haq, a special projects director tracking Clean Power Plan state action for the Natural Resources Defense Council, estimates legislatures in seven states have introduced bills to stop work on the Clean Power Plan. Measures introduced in about 15 states have attacked the rule in one way or another, she said.

Haq said “dirty energy interests” are behind the efforts.

“This is another leg of their strategy — if you can’t convince the governor, get the legislature to handcuff the governor,” Haq said. She noted that “it’s highly likely that utilities really don’t want to see this go through because the short amount of time the state can plan for reducing carbon pollution is not helpful.”

The conservative political group Americans for Prosperity, however, testified in favor of the Missouri bill and has been heralding state decisions to stop planning.

“States should do what they can to oppose complying with the rule while the legal issues are ongoing,” said Chrissy Harbin, director of federal affairs and strategic initiatives for AFP. “This legislation is important because it will protect Missouri families and businesses from the higher electricity prices resulting from the rule while it’s likely that EPA has overstepped its authority.”

Click here to read more about Missouri’s response to the Clean Power Plan.

Click here to see where all states stand since the Supreme Court stay.