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NY And Mass. Attorney Generals Join In Defense Of EPA Clean Power Plan


A coalition of 18 states along with a handful of cities and counties from across the country has filed a motion to intervene in defense of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which is facing challenges from states and business associations.New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey joined counterparts in 16 other states intending to support the controversial plan. It calls on states to reduce emissions from the power sector by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. Schneiderman says it will be a vital tool in stopping a climate crisis.

“This is the first ever set of national standards to address carbon pollution from existing power plants which are the nation’s largest source of carbon pollution and greenhouse gases,” Schneiderman said. “The plan is designed to advance clean energy innovation, development and deployment while laying the foundation for the long-term strategies needed to tackle the threat of climate change.”

Schneiderman insists the EPA has done its homework, saying there were more than four million public comments on the plan before it was released in August. But 26 states and a broad coalition of business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers are trying to prevent the rules from going into effect. Schneiderman says there are six separate motions for stay filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals. Those in opposition claim the EPA is unlawfully attempting to take authority over and reorganize the nation’s electric grid. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat like Schneiderman, thinks otherwise.

“This is exactly what cooperative federalism looks like,” Healey said. “It’s a hallmark of our key national environmental laws. If you look at the Clean Air Act, it’s the opposite of the EPA commandeering or exercising unlawful authority. Rather it’s the EPA recognizing the states’ leadership, giving states the opportunity to employ and use strategies that have proven success and working alongside the states.”

Opponents say the EPA is using section 111 of the Clean Air Act to push states to comply. Schneiderman says a Supreme Court decision in a case where states tried to assert their power to limit carbon pollution found that the federal agency has the authority.

“In a unanimous Supreme Court decision they said this is what the EPA can do under the Clean Air Act,” Schneiderman said. “They are doing what the Supreme Court said they should do. President Obama, in issuing his Climate Action Plan in June 2013, directing the EPA to fulfill its statutory duty was acting pursuant to this unanimous decision of the Supreme Court. We were in the case. We know what happened. So the EPA absolutely has the authority to issue a plan like this.”

Schneiderman says the EPA is being flexible by allowing states to extend the deadline to submit compliance plans two years beyond the initial September 2016 cutoff. EPA decides if the states get the extension and requires those that do to provide an update in 2017. Full compliance is expected by 2022. Those in opposition question whether other power sources can make up for the drop in generation from carbon producing sources that the plan calls for. U.S. Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Thomas Donohue said in a statement the plan will drive up electricity costs, impose tens of billions of dollars in annual compliance costs, and reduce U.S. competiveness without significant reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions.

Healey says shifting to natural gas and renewable energy generation is working within the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cooperative between nine states including Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut and New York. She says it can work elsewhere.

“We don’t need to choose any longer between environmental goals and economic sustainability,” Healey said. “For too long I think we’ve seen these things as mutually exclusive prerogatives. They are not. We can do both. We can do both well and we can do them together. We can make investments in clean energy while growing our economy.”

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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