PI Original Ellyn Fortino Monday September 26th, 2016, 4:10pm

Oral Arguments On Landmark Clean Power Plan To Be Heard Tuesday

With a U.S. appeals court set to hear oral arguments Tuesday on the Clean Power Plan, Progress Illinois looks at the debate over the landmark climate change regulations and the potential outcomes of the case. 

The full U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will hear oral arguments Tuesday on the Obama administration's controversial Clean Power Plan (CPP).

The Environmental Protection Agency's landmark regulations seek to slash carbon emissions from existing U.S. power plants. Specifically, the CPP looks to cut the power sector's carbon emissions to 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

States are given flexibility under the plan to meet carbon targets, which are scheduled to take effect starting in 2022.

Industry groups and 27 mostly Republican states are challenging the CPP, alleging the regulations amount to federal overreach. Eighteen other states, including Illinois, and several cities are defending the CPP. A coalition of environmental and public health groups is also backing the EPA's plan.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is leading the coalition of states in challenging the CPP.

"We are united for the proposition that the President lacks the power to pick winners and losers in the energy market and that he cannot bypass the states' traditional role to manage energy resources," Morrisey wrote in an op-ed last week. "Our fight against the Power Plan matters to every West Virginian because it will negatively impact so many people. This rule simply devastates coal, coal miners, coal retirees and their families and puts at risk thousands of good paying jobs and affordable energy for our state."

The American Lung Association is among the organizations defending the CPP. Last week, the association joined 1,300 health and medical experts from across the country in releasing a declaration in support of swift action on climate change to protect public health.

"The broad support of medical experts across the country shows that not only is there momentum for action, but that this is imperative for the health of every American," Albert Rizzo, the American Lung Association's senior medical advisor, said in a statement. "We can take action to mitigate the effects of climate change right now. We must do more to protect everyone's health, and especially the most vulnerable members of our communities."

In February, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the CPP's implementation while the lower court hears the case. An appeals court ruling is expected in late 2016 or early 2017. The U.S. Supreme Court could consider the case after the appeals court rules.

On Monday, the Anderson Economic Group released a report detailing four potential regulatory scenarios that could emerge once legal challenges against the CPP are resolved.

"Possible outcomes of a CPP ruling extend beyond simply upholding the rule or striking it down," Anderson Economic Group's Public Policy Director and report co-author Alex Rosaen said in a statement. "There are a number of ways that federal carbon regulation could play out. Businesses and consumers would benefit most from a carbon strategy that holds up under many scenarios."

The four possible CPP regulatory scenarios include "leaving the final rule intact; delaying implementation and re-setting emissions goals; amending the CPP to provide an emissions credit for new sources; and replacing the CPP with a statutory national tradable permit scheme," according to the report.

If the CPP's stay is lifted and the current regulations remain in place, the report says that Illinois electric producers would have to slash carbon emissions by at least 31 percent for the state to reach full compliance.

Separate research shows that the CPP's emission-reduction targets are well within the reach of power companies and states.

Power producers are already shifting toward lower and zero-carbon emitting energy as a result of market forces, according to the Environmental Defense Fund. Currently, the power sector is nearly two-thirds of the way toward achieving the CPP's 2030 carbon standards, the environmental group reports.

Moreover, at least 21 of the 27 states challenging the CPP could meet their 2024 emission standards "by relying exclusively on existing generation, investments already planned within each state, and implementation of respective existing state policies," according to a study conducted by M.J. Bradley & Associates for the Environmental Defense Fund.

Since the study was released in 2015, Arkansas, which is challenging the rule, announced it had already achieved its 2030 emissions goals.

"This suggests that at least 22 of the states could comply through 2024 as a result of planned investments, and that 19 states could comply through 2030," Environmental Defense Fund officials noted in a blog post last week. "For the minority of states that were not found to meet their Clean Power Plan emission-reduction targets through planned investments alone, this analysis indicates that very modest additional measures would be sufficient to close the gap."

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