By Brian Sewell
Flexibility: it’s the foundation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants.
“That’s what makes it ambitious, but achievable,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said when she unveiled the plan on June 2. “The glue that holds this plan together, and the key to making it work, is that each state’s goal is tailored to its own circumstances, and states have the flexibility to reach their goal in whatever way works best for them.”
But the politics surrounding federal climate action also vary widely among states. Two months after the plan’s release, some states are optimistic, touting how much carbon they have cut in recent years as a good start. Others are positioning themselves for a fight.
With Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe in office, Virginia could be the most amenable state in the region to the EPA’s efforts. Gov. McAuliffe announced his support for regulating carbon emissions late in his campaign and recently reinstated a 35-member state commission on climate change made up of elected officials, industry representatives, environmental advocates and scientists.
In North Carolina, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s on-the-record comments about climate change are scant. He has claimed at various times that “there has always been climate change,” or that it is “out of our control.” But if actions speak louder than words, the McCrory administration’s approach is telling.
This year, the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources removed documents about climate change from its website, including the state’s Climate Action Plan, which took dozens of experts years to research and compose.
Gov. McCrory also recently joined eight other Republican governors in penning a letter to President Obama that claims the EPA’s carbon rules would “largely dictate” the type of electric-generating facilities states could build and operate, and criticizes the president for seeking to “essentially ban coal from the U.S. energy mix.” Rather than suggesting improvements, the governors demand that the regulations be thrown out altogether.
Other Republican governors including Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam were absent from that letter. While the Tennessee legislature is far from active on climate change, major cities in the state such as Nashville and Chattanooga have released their own climate action plans. And the Tennessee Valley Authority, the federally owned utility that powers Tennessee and portions of six other states, expects its emissions to be half of what they were at their peak in 1995 by 2020, according to a statement released the day the EPA’s plan was announced.
In West Virginia and Kentucky, the second and third largest coal-producing states in the country, regulations that could negatively affect the coal industry elicitw particularly intense backlash. The two states recently joined a lawsuit against the EPA brought by coal CEO Bob Murray, who says the agency is lying to the American people about the existence of climate change.
The states claim that what the EPA is attempting “is nothing short of extraordinary” and that the agency wants to impose “double regulations” on coal plants since harmful pollutants other than greenhouse gases are already regulated under another section of the Clean Air Act. But the courts have repeatedly ruled that the EPA has the authority and obligation to regulate carbon pollution.
Earlier this year, Virginia passed legislation to require a cost-benefit analysis of regulating carbon dioxide. And West Virginia and Kentucky made laws directing state agencies to develop alternative standards and compliance schedules.
Regardless of how outspoken they are, state leaders opposing the EPA may be out of step with voters. According to a June poll conducted by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News, 67 percent of Americans either strongly or somewhat support the EPA’s plan and 29 percent oppose it.
The EPA is expected to finalize the rule by June 2015 and states must submit their implementation plans by June 2016.