New York leads coalition of U.S. states in legal defense of Clean Power Plan

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Given the highly polarized political atmosphere in the United States, pretty much any major action by U.S. President Obama can be expected to generate controversy.

This was doubly true of the Obama Administration’s plan to regulate greenhouse gas emissions in the electricity sector through the Clean Power Plan. Despite the plan’s delayed timeline for implementation, with no major actions required until 2022, national Republicans led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have made a political point of vowing non-compliance.

And while this call for obstruction has generally been abandoned in favor of more pragmatic alternatives, 24 states and a coal company filed lawsuits in late October to challenge implementation of the plan.

These parties charge that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has gone beyond its legal authority and warn of damage to the nation’s struggling coal industry, along with less credible claims of potential impacts on electricity costs and reliability.

However, last week a group of 25 states, cities and counties announced that they will contribute legal resources to protect the plan from this challenge. The coalition, led by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, has filed a motion to intervene on behalf of the plan.

“Climate change represents an unprecedented threat to the environment, public health, and our economy,” said Schneiderman. “We no longer can afford to respond to this threat with denials or obstruction.”

17 states are vowing legal support, a smaller number than the 24 states which are filing challenges. However, this includes California – by far the most populous state in the nation at 38 million inhabitants, around 12% of the nation’s population. It also includes New York City, whose 8.5 million residents give it a larger population than several of the states filing legal challenges combined.

The geography of supporters versus challengers reveals “red” (Republican or right-leaning) versus “blue” (Democratic or left-leaning) political divides in the United States. With a few exceptions urban areas, California and the U.S. Northeast (“blue states”) generally support the plan, and states in the South, Plains States and Mountain West (“red states”) are filing challenges.

The Clean Power Plan is generally expected to be positive for large-scale solar, with renewables expected to contribute 28% of generation capacity. The plan is also expected to be a death sentence for the nation’s coal fleet, which is already well in decline due to a lack of profitability.

Some the states challenging the plan are likely to see booming solar markets whether or not the plan is passed. Texas is one of the states that has challenged the plan, and in October the state’s grid operator predicted a 50-fold increase in installed solar by 2030, even if Clean Power Plan is not implemented.