Less than two months ago, the international community negotiated a historic agreement recognizing that climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet and deciding on a plan of action to strengthen the global response by all parties. The United States, buoyed by new mandates to reduce emissions from the electric power sector, was a leader in those talks. World leaders understood that the Clean Power Plan would still need to overcome hurdles ahead of implementation, including a host of lawsuits that had already been filed. While the Supreme Court’s stay is an unexpected setback, it does not imply a halt in action.
In fact, transformative changes are already underway in the power sector for a variety of reasons—less pollution, improved resilience, improved grid stability, and in many instances, cost savings. Companies like Solar City, now in 19 states and the District of Colombia, have created new business models to deliver distributed solar energy to residential users. Through its “Reforming the Energy Vision” strategy that will establish a new platform to facilitate integration of distributed energy resources, the State of New York is actively spurring clean energy innovation, bringing new investments into the State, and creating new opportunities for energy savings. We expect these trends to continue because they make good business sense.
The Clean Power Plan has the potential to scale up these transformative technologies and accelerate uptake of low carbon solutions. It gives states tools and strategies to meet ambitious yet achievable emissions standards at least cost, paving the way to a 21st Century electric power sector that reliably meets our energy needs in a much less intensive way.
Progressive states will continue to develop strategies for greenhouse gas mitigation from this important sector. The importance of the issue to the future of the planet and the security and well-being of our citizens cannot be overstated. Pragmatic states wanting to create certainty for their electric utilities and electricity consumers in this tumultuous regulatory climate should also consider staying the course. More time to define cost-effective and workable technological and policy solutions creates an opportunity for a more deliberative process to plan the future of a sector that continues to be the largest single source of domestic greenhouse gas emissions.
So while this latest wrench may slow near-term progress towards transformational climate action, the market imperative for cheaper, more reliable, and lower emitting power moves forward. At the same time, the climate imperative becomes ever more urgent: the longer we wait to shift towards lower carbon solutions, the more it will eventually cost to address this global problem. As a party to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change the US committed to help stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations to a level that would prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system. The Clean Power Plan is an important step towards fulfilling this commitment in a way that fits within our own legal framework.
Relying on the same part of the Clean Air Act—Section 111(d)—previously designated by the Supreme Court as providing authority to regulate greenhouse gases from power plants, and having undergone an extensive and unprecedented public consultation process to define the best system of emissions reductions, we remain confident that the Clean Power Plan will be upheld on its merits. We look forward to continuing our work in support of global efforts to limit global average temperature increases to well below 2 °C, including assisting U.S. states to craft effective and cost-effective approaches to implement the Clean Power Plan.