States may plan discreetly to avoid ‘backlash’ — White House official

Source: Emily Holden, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, February 26, 2016

A special assistant to President Obama said that despite the Supreme Court’s decision to halt the Clean Power Plan, states are voluntarily working behind the scenes to piece together backup plans to comply with the electricity-sector greenhouse gas standards.

“What some states have told us — and some that have not been public about it because they don’t want to see backlash from the right — is it’s conservative to work on this policy,” Rohan Patel, deputy director of intergovernmental affairs for the White House, told several dozen attendees at a Washington, D.C., symposium on the impacts of climate change on black communities.

“If the Supreme Court and the D.C. Circuit Court decide to move forward, they want to be ready,” he added. “They don’t want to be left holding the bag and say, ‘We didn’t do anything, we didn’t engage our stakeholders, we didn’t look at the regulatory issues, we didn’t look at the legislative issues.'”

The White House is not telling states how to proceed while the stay is in place, but it is explaining the importance of the rule and of actions to reduce climate change, Patel noted in an interview after the event, which was co-hosted by the Sierra Club and Green for All.

Leslie Fields, director of the Sierra Club’s Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships Program, said in an interview that the Supreme Court stay — which could freeze implementation until at least the summer of 2017 — could give environmental justice supporters more “breathing room” to advocate for state carbon-cutting plans that consider vulnerable communities and ensure against localized pollution if carbon trading is employed (ClimateWire, Feb. 18).

“We’re not stayed,” she said. “So the silver lining is we have more time to really deepen these relationships, and more time to really get at this.”

Fields noted, however, that getting those concerns recognized is “still an uphill discussion.”

That could be especially true in 18 or more states that have canceled Clean Power Plan compliance talks, as well as in the handful of others that are scaling back or reimagining the style of their discussions (ClimateWire, Feb. 22).

Patel, who previously was an associate director at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, told advocates that the Clean Power Plan still offers a broader “organizing opportunity” for state governments and affected communities.

Speakers at the event spoke about the need to unite to combat the cumulative impacts on black communities from air and water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from a wide range of sources, including factories, trucks and power plants. Patel invited environmental justice groups to contact the White House for help.

Patel said climate change and its impact on vulnerable populations have hit President Obama “at a very deep level,” including on a trip to Alaska in August, when he met with three communities “facing extinction” because of global warming.

Patel joked that Republicans on Capitol Hill may act like the president’s term is almost over, but “we’ve got 11 months left, and I can guarantee you we meet with the full climate team every couple hours, it seems.”

“We are looking for ways to embed, to institutionalize and to make as much possible progress, and that’s because the president has specifically asked for that,” he added.

Click here to read more about legal challenges to the Clean Power Plan.

Click here to see which states are suspending or continuing planning talks.