State lawmakers push back against EPA’s Clean Power Plan in Fla., Minn. 

Source: Scott Detrow, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, March 12, 2015

A growing number of state legislatures are trying to insert themselves into the debate over crafting plans to comply with U.S. EPA’s unprecedented effort to lower the carbon footprints of state power sectors.

Pennsylvania and West Virginia have already enacted laws giving their legislative chambers veto power over the proposals their states’ environmental protection agencies ultimately will draft to comply with the Clean Power Plan (ClimateWire, March 5). The influential conservative American Legislative Exchange Council is pushing for other Republican-controlled chambers to pass similar bills (ClimateWire, Dec. 9, 2014).

Earlier this week, a Minnesota House committee approved language mirroring ALEC’s model legislation.

The party-line vote came despite opposition from Minnesota’s Pollution Control Agency, which warned that legislative approval would complicate an already-complex process. “We told them that we couldn’t support it,” Assistant Commissioner David Thornton said yesterday, after discussing the Clean Power Plan with reporters and Senate staffers on Capitol Hill. “This is an executive branch proposal out of Washington, and we are the delegated executive branch agency in Minnesota that’s supposed to put the plan together.”

EPA’s draft rules require Minnesota to cut its carbon emissions by 41 percent. Thornton said the state expects to rely heavily on expanded renewable energy sources and efficiency efforts to meet that goal. (Read more about Minnesota’s Clean Power Plan goals at E&E’s new Power Plan Hub.)

Thornton said the agency has two primary worries. “In order to come up with the best possible plan, we’re going to need the best and brightest people in the state helping us,” he said. “And we’re concerned that if … the plan has to go to the Legislature, some of those folks are going to stay away from our process and wait to insert themselves there.”

The second concern has to do with timing. “[Legislative approval] collapses what is already an aggressive 12-month schedule into six months,” Thornton said. States will have one year to develop compliance plans, once EPA announces the final rule this summer. Minnesota’s Legislature only meets for five months of every year.

While Republicans control the Minnesota Legislature’s lower chamber, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party holds the Senate and the governor’s office, so the bill faces long odds of becoming law.

Fla. legislator slams EPA plan as ‘incredible overreach’

It’s a much different situation in Republican-controlled Florida, where a similar bill might see a committee vote later this week. However, Sunshine State lawmakers will likely have final say over Florida’s compliance plan, regardless of whether legislation lands on Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) desk.

That’s because of an existing law giving the state’s Legislature ratification power over any new regulation generating more than $1 million in compliance costs over a five-year window. “At this stage, I cannot imagine a scenario in which we could adopt rules that would have an impact less than $1 million,” Paula Cobb, a deputy secretary with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, said during House testimony last week. “So I imagine there’s going to be, at a minimum, ratification by the Legislature.”

Pressed on whether the state DEP would work with lawmakers while developing the proposal, Cobb said, “I cannot see a scenario in which there will not be that collaboration.”

Regardless, Rep. John Wood (R) plans to push forward with his legislative approval bill. “We’re worried that our executive agency might in some way try to respond outside of the rulemaking process,” he explained. “We want to make sure the Legislature is involved in the policymaking concerning this important public issue.”

Wood has major concerns about the EPA rule, which he calls an “incredible overreach of the federal government.” He’s worried a shift from coal to natural gas and renewables could destabilize electric markets and lead to higher rates. “Electricity is the foundation of our society. If you look at what we’ve accomplished and the fabric of our society, everything we live for is based on affordable electricity.”

He and other Florida officials have expressed concerns about expanding the state’s natural gas footprint, due to Florida’s unique geographical makeup and the limited number of pipelines running in and out of the state. “Florida is very vulnerable to storms impacting our grid,” he said. “If it comes to natural gas is the fuel and that’s the only thing … we’re going to have to invest significantly in storage facilities.”

Florida faces one of the steeper compliance rates in the Clean Power Plan — the draft rules require the state to cut its carbon footprint about 28 percent below 2005 levels.