The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency moved toward repealing former President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan last week.
The policy would've established federal standards to slash carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 32 percent by 2030, relative to 2005 levels.
On Friday, the Post Bulletin spoke with Ellen Anderson, executive director of the Energy Transition Lab at the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment, about the effect the repeal could have on Minnesota's clean energy efforts.
What impact do you think the EPA's rollback of Obama's Clean Power Plan will have on the United States as a whole?
It will certainly have some impact … especially on some states, (but) at least half the states are going to pursue and still meet the requirements of the Clean Power Plan with or without the rule. So what it's going to do is create kind of a patchwork across the United States and take away a consistent federal policy that is intended to reduce carbon emissions and improve public health.
It could cause some states to push more to continue … coal-fired power plants, but overall the way that the energy industry in the United States is evolving, coal is on the decline … and I expect that will continue.
Do you think the economic benefits of renewable energy as it gets cheaper will outweigh this as a political issue and turn it more into a common sense issue?
I think that's actually already happening. It's certainly happening in Minnesota. Wind energy in the Midwest is now the cheapest form of energy generation. The economics have changed dramatically for renewable energy over the last decade. Solar is right on the heels of wind. It's in that same position in many places as well.
What impact do you think the repeal will have here considering that we already have pretty progressive renewable policies?
I don't think it's going to affect Minnesota very much. We have a strong renewable energy standard, which by the way I was an author of in the Senate. We also have greenhouse gas reduction goals in Minnesota, so we have strong state policy. Even if we had a new governor after the election who was not a supporter of the Clean Power Plan like Gov. Dayton is, those existing policies in state law have driven a dramatic change in our electricity makeup in our state.
I think most utilities in Minnesota are ending up doing more renewable energy than is even required by law because it's so inexpensive and they've learned how to do it. Between that and retiring coal plants, I think Minnesota is going to easily meet our requirement under the Clean Power Plan, which was for a 42 percent reduction in carbon emissions.
How about states that aren't prioritizing renewable energy the same or focusing on cutting emissions? Wouldn't a national policy like the Clean Power Plan have been a driver for them to cut emissions?
Absolutely. Some states, the Clean Power Plan will drive policy in a way that … state laws may not be. The way that the Clean Power Plan, and the way that the Clean Air Act is set up under law is that it uses a model of cooperative federalism, which means that it's a federal law, but it's really implemented at a state-by-state level. So states have a lot of leeway in how they design how they're going to meet these federal requirements.
Even though it never actually took effect, it was just being proposed and studied for a few years, and litigated — it looked like a lot of different states were going to propose different means of achieving their targets.
Do you think this repeal will stand firm? I saw in your statement that you thought some legal action might happen.
It will without a doubt be challenged in court. The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that the EPA has an obligation, and it has the authority, to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. That was several years ago in a couple of Supreme Court decisions. There will certainly be challenges … to the process itself of repealing it, no doubt, but then if the repeal goes through there will be challenges saying that the EPA has to come up with some other kind of plan to reduce or manage or regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
What the Supreme Court said is that … as a matter of public health, that carbon emissions endangered the public health of the United States, and therefore under the Clean Air Act the EPA had to regulate those emissions. There will most certainly be challenges that will go very likely all the way to the Supreme Court.