The BiG Stink: On a Power Trip (or just trippin’?)

By Faith Miller
Operations Manager at Bootstrap Compost, Inc.

This week “The Big Stink” is all about power. Where’s it coming from? Who’s got it? Who wants it?

On February 9th, the Supreme Court ruled to temporarily block implementation of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan. To be clear, the Supreme Court has not rejected the Clean Power Plan (CPP); it has merely voted that the EPA cannot enforce regulations until justices decide new rules are legal. The Clean Power Plan has multiple objectives but the regulation currently on the hotseat requires states to reduce emissions from power plants by 32% of 2005 levels by 2030. The EPA outlines several strategies to achieve the cuts such as improving efficiency of existing coal-fired plants, shifting electricity generation away from coal toward natural gas, nuclear power, and renewables, and boosting end-use efficiency by consumers to meet regulations.

coal power plant

But does the EPA have the authority to coerce states into overhauling their electricity systems? It’s up for debate. The CPP has become the most contentious and heavily litigated environmental regulation ever. Currently 27 states, utility companies, coal companies and numerous other sectors have launched more than 15 separate cases against the regulations.

“The legal circus surrounding CPP may be getting serious press but it masks that all the hoopla ultimately doesn’t matter.”

Arguments against the CPP have three main flavors. One is all about legal lingo. The current version of the Clean Air Act contains two 1990 provisions (one from the House and one from the Senate) that have conflicting language over whether the EPA can regulate toxic emissions from a “source category”- in this case power plants – that is already covered in another section of the law. Basically, no regulation double dipping.  Another argument is termed “fenceline problem.” Detractors contend the EPA cannot assume states will expand clean energy to meet emission targets because renewables are beyond the “fenceline” of power plants over which the EPA has authority. The final argument is that emissions targets place undue economic hardship on states.

The legal circus surrounding CPP may be getting serious press but it masks that all the hoopla doesn’t matter. The rhetoric that America is thumbing its nose at the international community and the Paris Agreement is overblown. The passing of Justice Scalia and the appointment of a new justice is unimportant. It is irrelevant that not one remaining Republican presidential candidate supports climate change mitigation.


Why don’t all these headlining issues matter? Because a
shift away from coal is already happening. Emissions from fossil fuel powered plants dropped 18% between 2005 and 2015 and coal accounted for a record low of 29% of power generation in 2015. Not even free-falling oil prices prevented a record $328.9 billion global investment in clean energy last year. Twelve states along with several cities are not waiting for a ruling and have already begun to move forward with new regulations.

So does the EPA have power to apply CPP? Do states have the power to manage their own emissions? Beats me. What I do know is money talks and people are putting their coin behind clean energy at unprecedented rates. No matter which way the court rules, change is on the horizon and people are powering it by voting with their dollars.

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