“As people of faith, we realize that we have a sacred duty to be good stewards of the planet and to care for our brothers and sisters in need, who are often the people most impacted by air pollution and climate change. The President’s Clean Power Plan would mean better health for all and economic opportunities for all communities across Illinois—but, only if we act.” Pastor Booker Steven Vance, Faith in Place
On August 3rd 2015 President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) introduced the Clean Power Plan (CPP). The CPP was part of the administration’s effort to improve climate through the reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from existing fossil-fueled (coal and natural gas) energy generating units (EGUs). The overall goal is to reduce carbon pollution from the nation’s largest source, power plants, while maintaining and increasing energy reliability and affordability. The CPP represents the first ever national standards for carbon pollution from power plants.
The CPP’s approach relies on section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, which creates a partnership between the EPA, states, tribes and U.S. territories, with the EPA setting a goal and states choosing how to meet it. The EPA Federal Plan and model rule assists states in implementing the Plan, which mandates a 32 percent reduction (pre-2005 levels) in carbon emissions from power plants.
To meet this final goal and interim goals in 2022-2029, the EPA applied a so-called best system of emission reduction with three “building blocks” of efficiency: (1) reducing carbon intensity of electricity generation by improving the heat rate of existing coal-fired power plants; (2) substituting increased electricity generation from lower-emitting existing natural gas plants for reduced generation from higher-emitting coal-fired plants; (3) substituting increased electricity generation from new zero-emitting renewable energy sources (wind, solar) for reduced generation from existing coal-fired power plants. Statutory provisions require the agency to establish standards that reflect the “best system” for or “maximum achievable” rate of pollution reduction by comparing environmental benefits of a proposed standard with its economic costs. This is the language the Obama-administration EPA relied on in setting greenhouse gas emissions standards through the Clean Power Plan and its methane rule for oil and gas operations.
The EPA then applied those standards to develop CO2 reduction goals for each state, with each state having the option to meet its goals through an emissions-standards plan or a state measures plan, as well as emissions trading among sources and states.
The Future of Clean Power in Illinois
Under the current administration, the future of the CPP is uncertain, even bleak, with some observers forecasting its demise. The White House website removed all references to climate change at noon on Inauguration Day. The Supreme Court has temporarily halted the implementation of the CPP due to pending legal challenges in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, where opponents argue that the Clean Air Act does not authorize adoption of the CPP.
Despite its fragile status in legal limbo and the apparent damning direction of the new federal executive, a promising prospect has emerged: individual states have greater ability and stronger incentive, along with a moral duty, to shape their own environmental justice agendas in accordance with federal guidance under the CPP. Illinois can and should be a leader here. In fact, it has already become a pioneer in the Midwest with the successful passage of the Future Energy Jobs Bill in December, 2016.
According to the Clean Power Plan, Illinois must reduce its power sector emissions by 34-35 percent below 2012 levels by 2030. A detailed version of Illinois’s plan under the CPP can be found here. Recent analysis by the World Resources Institute shows that Illinois’ existing clean energy policies related to power plant emissions can reduce CO2 emissions by 27 percent below 2012 levels by 2030, over 75 percent of the specified goal.
Through collaboration and continual commitment, reaching the final goal is both achievable and cost-effective. One reassuring aspect of the plan is that the EPA establishes goals for each state, but no state or plant must meet them alone or all at once. They are designed to be met as part of the grid and over time. For example, if Illinois surpasses its CPP emissions-reduction target, it can sell unused emissions allowances to other states, generating potentially $300 million on average per year between 2022 and 2030 (assuming a $10 per ton allowance price).
From a strictly fiscal standpoint, Illinois’ clean power policies offer indisputable economic benefits including consumer savings, job creation, and investment opportunity. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) estimates that the Illinois energy efficiency standard will save customers $500 million per year starting in 2015, ramping up to over $1 billion per year in 2025.
The state’s Illinois Energy Now program— which is available to public facilities and low-income entities located within the Ameren and ComEd electrical service areas—created more than 17,000 jobs between 2008 and 2014, leading to $585 million in energy cost savings over the lifetime of the efficient equipment installed. Illinois State University’s Center for Renewable Energy found that the 23 largest wind farms in the state (totaling 3,335 megawatts of capacity) will generate a total economic benefit of almost $6 billion during the construction and 25-year operational lives of the projects. These are only a handful of concrete economic advantages that can be realized if we ardently embrace a clean power future here in Illinois.
Justice in Embracing the Clean Power Plan and Beyond
The poor suffer more from climate change. Power plant pollution disproportionately harms economically disadvantaged communities, especially in large urban industrial centers like Chicago. Black children are four times more likely than white children to be hospitalized for asthma. Per the Respiratory Health Association, asthma-related death rates are four to six times higher for African-Americans and Hispanics than Whites. As renewable energy grows and coal power plants phase out, Illinoisans will experience less soot, smog, and mercury pollution, creating a healthier state for everyone.
The CPP—especially the Clean Energy Incentive Program—is designed to empower communities of color in taking part in the clean energy economy. Illinois had the highest unemployment rate for African Americans (14.1 percent) in the first quarter of 2016, per a survey by the Economic Policy Institute. The national average is 9 percent. One way to reduce such dismal figures is to spur the development of community solar projects. Although virtually nonexistent in Illinois, Cook County is laying a blueprint for a new age of community solar projects designed to increase solar energy and make it affordable for all residents.
The Clean Power Plan, and for that matter, the EPA itself, may not survive. But the foundation is firmly in place and Illinois has set a course. Communities are interested, legislators are active, and people of faith are committed to reaching the goals of the CPP and ultimately the goal of environmental justice in Illinois. We just need to act.