Guest opinion: Let Obama’s Clean Power Plan rest in peace
The Environmental Protection Agency has published official notice of plans to withdraw the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan. States will no longer be required to meet the specific carbon emission goals mandated by the CPP and will be free to develop their own goals and emission standards for power plants.
That’s the good news: The EPA’s carbon emission mandates are gone and Colorado’s carbon emission standards are now a matter of state law, not a federal mandate. The bad news is that the EPA’s mandates are still alive in Colorado thanks to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s love affair with the federal plan. Gov. Hickenlooper signed an executive order on July 11 setting carbon emission goals remarkably similar to the EPA’s 2015 CPP goals and quite different from the goals set by the Colorado General Assembly in statute as recently as 2013.
A little history might be helpful in understanding the current influence and status of the federal Clean Power Plan that is being canceled by the EPA. The federal Clean Power Plan’s emission mandates have been on hold since February 2016 because of a stay issued by the U.S. Supreme Court in response to a lawsuit by 26 state attorneys general, including Colorado’s. That lawsuit is on hold in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, and it is not yet clear whether it will be dismissed as moot or allowed to proceed.
The Supreme Court issued a stay on the Clean Power Plan back in February 2016, and Gov. Hickenlooper soon announced that Colorado would continue to implement the CPP goals in the absence of a federal mandate. The question then and now is: Does the governor have the statutory authority to do that? No Colorado statute sets specific carbon emission goals for power plants or authorizes any state agency to do so.
The governor’s July 11 executive order deftly skirted such tricky legal issues. However, the only way for the governor to implement the CPP’s renewable energy goals in Colorado is to cajole or bribe the Public Utilities Commission into approving utility electric generation capacity goals that disregard or underestimate higher ratepayer costs. However, that would be a major policy shift that ought to be the province of the people’s elected representatives in the General Assembly.
The governor’s July executive order was basically a symbolic gesture to appease radical environmentalists angry over President Trump’s rejection of the Paris Climate Agreement, and has no legal force with regard to the plans and operations of energy companies.
And so, our lame-duck governor is aggressively pushing for implementation of (1) a plan that the federal government has abandoned and (2) an international nontreaty that was never ratified by the U.S. Senate and has since been repudiated.
Sadly, he seems blind to the reality that if Colorado plunges ahead with implementation of carbon emission standards other states have rejected, those plans put Colorado industry and commerce at a competitive disadvantage because of the inescapable byproduct — an increase in utility rates.
And let’s remember that the ultimate goal of the Clean Power Plan, the goal that justified the immense effort and costs, was a possible decrease in average global atmospheric temperatures by an underwhelming .018 centigrade – that’s less than 1 degree — not by 2030 or 2050, but by the end of the 21st century.
The good news is that Colorado need not follow the governor’s yellow brick road to Climate Change Nirvana. The people of Colorado through their elected representatives have not chosen to put symbolism over common sense, have not amended the statewide renewable energy goals set in statute, and have not ordered an accelerated closure of coal-fired power plants at the cost of thousands of jobs and higher utility rates.
Our governor is rumored to have ambitions for national office. If writing meaningless executive orders is part of his strategy for achieving national prominence, so be it. But meanwhile, back home in Colorado, we still live by the rule of law, and low utility rates are still the North Star for a vibrant economy.
Ray Scott represents Senate District 7 in the General Assembly and chairs the Senate Select Committee on Energy and Environment.