The midterm election saw energy and environment issues play front-and-center in many campaigns--but now that the votes have been cast, the implications of campaign rhetoric remain uncertain. Amid discussion of Keystone XL, LNG exports, and possible compromise on energy efficiency legislation is speculation that the GOP-controlled Senate may target the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. At the state level, several gubernatorial transitions could also have implications for the implementation of the plan.
In Congress, Senate minority (soon to be majority) leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) promised during the campaign “to begin to restrict funding” to the EPA to prevent implementation of the Clean Power Plan and to hold votes on standalone bills blocking the Proposed Rule. He has doubled down on this pledge since his re-election, saying that “easing the burden already created by EPA regulations will continue to be a priority for me in the new Congress.” Although McConnell promised in a post-election press conference to avoid a government shutdown, appropriations riders are another potential tool for combatting the Clean Power Plan.
Meanwhile, Obama continued to push his climate agenda, pledging further emission reductions in a joint announcement with China last week. The targets set in the agreement, which are dependent upon the survival of the Clean Power Plan, may help buffer the rule from political attacks, and also signal the President’s continued post-election commitment to the Proposed Rule. Indeed, congressional attempts to undermine the Clean Power Plan are would likely face a Presidential veto, and Bill Becker, executive director at the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, predicts, “For something like climate, I think he would dig in his heels.” AEE’s new Vice President of Federal Policy, Arvin Ganesan, former deputy chief of staff of policy at EPA, agrees that congressional attempts to weaken or reverse the Clean Power Plan are unlikely to get past the President’s desk.
Therefore, according to former EPA General Counsel Roger Martella (sub required), the greater threat to the Clean Power Plan comes from areas “where Congress can unilaterally act, and that's primarily oversight.” Leadership transitions in key Senate committees will likely lead to increased scrutiny of the Clean Power Plan, bogging down the agency with hearings and information requests. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), a vocal opponent of both the EPA and the Clean Power Plan, is expected to challenge the Proposed Rule as head of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, and has promised, “I will do everything in my power to rein in and shed light on the EPA's unchecked regulations.” Meanwhile, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Ala.) is in line to head the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, a role that would put her in control of public hearings on impacts such as grid reliability.
At the state level, the Clean Power Plan gained some probable foes on Election Day, but also secured some supporters. Elections in Florida, Wisconsin, Arkansas, and Arizona bring in opponents to EPA’s Proposed Rule. In Florida, incumbent Gov. Rick Scott (R) won re-election after a hard-fought race in which climate policy featured heavily. Despite being pressured to embrace environmental issues, Scott remained lukewarm on solar energy, warning during a debate that embracing solar would increase ratepayer costs. In Wisconsin, incumbent Gov. Scott Walker (R) opposes EPA’s Proposed Rule (sub required), while newly-elected attorney general Brad Schimel promised during his campaign to sue EPA over the Clean Power Plan. In Arkansas, Gov.-elect Asa Hutchinson (R) also promised to “push back” against the EPA. Finally, in Arizona, attorney general-elect Mark Brnovich (R) pledged to voters that, if elected, he would “join states in challenging the legality of these federal regulations, if they are not promptly withdrawn, or significantly revised to reflect the concerns of stakeholders.” Two new public utility commissioners at the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC), Doug Little and Tom Forese, also criticized the Clean Power Plan during the campaign, saying that it would cause ratepayer cost increases, with Forese denouncing the “overreach of the EPA.”
Elsewhere, the implications of the midterm elections remain uncertain. Colorado’s incumbent Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), who won re-election in a close contest, expressed approval of EPA’s Clean Power Plan, but said of the proposed regulations, “if we think that they're too restrictive, then we should fight them." In Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder (R), who has supported advanced energy policies in the past, also won his re-election campaign. Snyder has advocated for what he calls a “no regrets” energy policy. Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner (R) of Illinois also maintained a non-committal stance during the campaign, saying during a debate, “I believe we need a broad-based portfolio of energy options in Illinois and in America.”
While the Clean Power Plan faces uncertain politics in some states, there is good news for the Proposed Rule in Pennsylvania, where victory for Tom Wolf (D) in the gubernatorial race may eventually result in the state joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). If Wolf follows through on his campaign promise to join RGGI, the program’s footprint would almost double. The Clean Power Plan will gain another ally in Kathleen McGinty, Wolf’s newly appointed chief of staff and former secretary of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. Meanwhile, Republican governors-elect in Massachusetts and Maryland are not expected to push for withdrawal from RGGI. In Massachusetts, governor-elect Charlie Baker has specifically endorsed the program, saying he would seek “market-based incentives for the further reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions.”
AEE and its state partners around the country will continue to support the Clean Power Plan as a historic opportunity to modernize the electric power system, and closely monitor developments as states face the need to comply with the plan once it is finalized next June.
On Nov. 5, we submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency AEE’s comments on the Clean Power Plan. Compliance with the Clean Power Plan may be complicated, but with all the technologies available and all the flexibility allowed for individual states to develop plans that make sense for them, EPA’s state targets for reduced greenhouse gas emissions will be easy to achieve. In our comments, what we told EPA is this: Advanced energy can contribute much more to emission reduction than the draft of the Clean Power Plan contemplates, and provide economic benefits at the same time. Click below to download the full comments.