The Clean Power Plan: How It Could Affect Chesapeake Bay Restoration

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OCTOBER 10, 2017 UPDATE: EPA announced today that agency chief Scott Pruitt had signed a measure to rescind the Clean Power Plan, former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy's 2015 plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Ignoring the impacts of climate change is short-sighted and will damage the health of the Chesapeake Bay. The Bay's trophy rockfish are struggling to find oxygen as the water gets hotter. Warmer waters stress species like soft shelled clams and eelgrass, potentially eliminating them entirely from the Chesapeake Bay. Sea-level rise is threatening coastal marshes and low-lying lands like Tangier Island.

The air pollution reductions we would get from the Clean Power Plan would go a long way to improving the health of people living in the Bay Region—including children, the elderly, and the poor—as well as meeting the nitrogen reductions set in the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint to restore the Bay and its rivers and streams. Take a look at our blog below from earlier this year, documenting the origins of the Clean Power Plan and how its rollback could threaten Chesapeake restoration.

What happened?
In 2005, despite the significant body of scientific evidence showing a correlation between increased carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere and increasing global temperatures, EPA refused to develop regulations curbing the emission of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide from power plants, cars, and trucks.

Because of growing concern over climate change and sea level rise, several states, local governments, and private organizations brought a lawsuit to require EPA to create regulations designed to curb the emission of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, methane, and hydrofluorocarbons). In 2007, the Supreme Court held that given the clear scientific evidence for human-caused climate change and the potential for adverse human health impacts, EPA had the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases. Click here to learn more about Massachusetts v. EPA, 549 U.S. 497 (2007).

Following the Supreme Court's direction, on August 3, 2015, EPA issued a new regulation under the Clean Air Act called the Clean Power Plan for Existing Power Plants ("The Plan"). 

Several types of power plants (coal, nuclear, gas, oil, hydroelectric) generate electricity for our homes and businesses. The Plan focuses on coal-burning power plants. Several lawsuits have been filed against EPA challenging the Plan. Those lawsuits are still pending. 

Now, President Trump has signaled that he wants to revoke the Plan. That could be attempted in several different ways, but all would require that the public be given notice of and the ability to comment on EPA's change in position. Citizens, states, or industry could later sue the government if they believed the agency's decision was arbitrary, capricious, or illegal.

How could elimination of the Clean Power Plan affect Bay restoration?
The Plan gives states three ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants within their borders. The most effective way would be to make the power plants more efficient in generating electricity; that is, make them burn less fuel to generate the same amount of electricity. Making these plants more fuel efficient or even shutting them down would mean the plants would emit less nitrogen oxides (NOx). Because NOx is a major source of nitrogen pollution to the Bay, implementation of the Power Plan would greatly improve Bay health. (See Bay TMDL, Appendix L and Eshleman, K., et al., "Declining nitrate-N yields in the Upper Potomac River Basin: What is really driving progress under Chesapeake Bay restoration?")

Once EPA decides to act, it is expected to tell the courts considering the Plan that it wants to reevaluate the rule so all litigation should be suspended. Then, it is likely that the agency will issue a new rule either reversing the earlier finding that greenhouse gases from power plants are causing climate change that is harming humans or revising the rule significantly to weaken its impact on coal-fired power plants. If the Trump Administration takes such action, it is expected that some states and private groups will sue EPA. A protracted legal fight is expected. 

CBF's legal and policy teams are monitoring EPA's actions with respect to the Clean Power Plan and will take the appropriate actions if required to preserve the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint and ensure Bay restoration moves forward.

Click here to learn about what you can do right now to support clean water across our region.

Jon Mueller

Issues in this Post

Air Pollution   Climate Change   Water Quality  




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