Oklahoma Attorney General pitches state-based CO2 program

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt on May 20 unveiled his proposal to give states flexibility to address CO2 emissions standards from existing power plants.

The plan titled, “The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Plan: The Clean Air Act Section 111(d) Framework that Preserves States’ Rights,” was the focus of a May 21 event in Washington, D.C., hosted by the Federalist Society. Pruitt, a Republican with a past focus on state’s rights issues, has been a constant critic of EPA regulatory initiatives, including the agency’s regional haze rule.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to issue soon its proposed new CO2-limiting rule for existing power plants, which is expected, among other things, to force the shutdown of even more coal-fired power plants across the U.S.

 “The Environmental Protection Agency has played an important role historically in protecting the environment. But the Clean Air Act and other environmental laws envision a cooperative federalism where the states and federal government work together to protect our air and water,” Pruitt said. “Unfortunately, the EPA has grown increasingly unwilling to properly defer to state authority and instead is attempting to usurp the role of the states through initiatives like proposing new regulations on emissions from existing power plants.”

President Obama’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) directs the EPA to regulate CO2 emissions from new and existing fossil-fuel-fired power plants. The plan has no legal basis, nor the force of law, and in fact goes against the spirit of cooperative federalism that underscores most environmental laws, Pruitt said. The Clean Air Act gives states the authority to design and implement regulations to address emissions standards. By directing the EPA to set emissions standards, the Administration is using a federal agency to impose its anti-fossil fuel agenda while undermining state authority, the Oklahoma official said.

Pruitt’s plan allows each state to set emissions standards for existing units by evaluating each unit’s ability to improve efficiency and reduce CO2 emissions in a cost effective way. The plan would institute a unit-by-unit, “inside the fence” approach to determining state emissions standards. It accounts for the practical reality that air quality impacts differ from state to state, as do costs and opportunities for CO2 reductions.

“States have a vested interest in protecting the air and water, and they have the experience, expertise, and ability to regulate these issues,” Pruitt said. “Cooperative federalism empowers states by letting them lead the way in addressing these issues. The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Plan provides the states the ability to make necessary policy judgments in order to address carbon dioxide emissions standards. This approach preserves state primacy and does not turn over management of local power generation fleets to the EPA.”

The Federalist Society hosted Pruitt and a panel of experts at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. for a discussion on state-based solutions to the Obama Administration’s Climate Action Plan to address greenhouse gas emissions.

Said the Pruitt plan: “EPA has proposed a New Source Performance Standard (NSPS) for new power plants, which includes performance standards that are not achievable in the real world. Even more problematic, pursuant to Section 111(d) of the CAA, EPA will issue standards for existing power plants mid-year 2014 that will create immediate problems and higher electricity costs for consumers nationwide, including in Oklahoma. Because the existing generation fleet was neither built nor designed to control CO2 emissions, the EPA approach will seek to set a State by State budget using a baseline for allowed emissions resulting from electricity generation in each state. However, EPA’s ambition is restrained by Section 111(d), which gives the States the authority to determine achievable emission standards for its fossil-fuel fired units. Despite President Obama’s directives to EPA in the Climate Action Plan, EPA cannot exceed its legal authority under Section 111(d). The CAA governs EPA’s actions – not the CAP. Furthermore, the legality of EPA’s purported authority to regulate CO2 emissions for existing power plants under Section 111(d) has been questioned, and the Agency’s very ability to promulgate regulations is only assumed to be legal here for purposes of this discussion.”  

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.