Denial has become defiance.
Six governors, a Democrat and five Republicans who have questioned or avoided taking a stance on the existence of human-induced global warming, have announced in the past 90 days that they will not comply with the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s signature effort to cut heat-trapping carbon emissions and slow climate change.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence became the latest to join their ranks in late June, declaring in a letter to President Barack Obama that he would not abide by the plan “if the final rule has not demonstrably and significantly improved.”
“This rule represents an effort by the administration to continue to advance a climate change agenda through the regulatory state and does not give due regard to the impact that that will have on electricity rates,” Pence said during a press call with reporters Thursday. “The best way for this rule to be improved would be to be withdrawn completely.”
As a congressman in 2009, Pence previously accused prominent climate scientists of falsifying data – a charge investigations found baseless.
The Clean Power Plan, unveiled by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2014 and expected to be finalized this summer, sets state targets for reducing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. It is the centerpiece of Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which he announced in June 2013, and his more recent pledge to the U.N. that the U.S. will cut its carbon emissions by as much as 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.
Carbon dioxide, while less potent than gases like methane, is the most abundant greenhouse gas in the earth’s atmosphere. Experts say countries must reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to keep the globe’s average temperature from rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius from preindustrial levels – widely seen as the threshold for avoiding runaway and catastrophic climate change.
Conservative lawmakers and industry groups representing the coal, oil and manufacturing sectors have vigorously opposed the Obama administration’s actions to ease carbon emissions, from tighter fuel standards for motor vehicles to new efficiency benchmarks for home appliances. The Clean Power Plan, the first federal rule to limit carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants, has provoked perhaps the greatest outcry, with critics arguing it amounts to “federal overreach” that will drive up electricity rates, undercut the reliability of the grid and hamper economic growth.
In March, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican representing the coal-heavy state of Kentucky, published an op-ed urging governors to disregard the rule’s requirement that states draw up and submit their own paths for achieving their emissions targets.
“This proposed regulation would have a negligible effect on global climate but a profoundly negative impact on countless American families already struggling,” McConnell wrote. “The regulation’s mandates are not technologically achievable, cannot be implemented under rushed timelines and threaten both state economies and energy reliability for families.”
Those that do not submit a plan won’t escape the Clean Power Plan. Instead, they’ll have a federal rule implemented for them – one that may simply regulate power plants directly. That may be one reason why only five of the country’s 31 Republican governors – including presidential candidates Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana – have heeded the GOP leader’s call to action so far. (West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat, signed a bill in March leaving it to the state legislature to decide whether to approve an emissions submission, a move seen as a victory for the state’s coal industry.)
“Most governors – smart governors – are aware that the state has more options and control if the state designs its own plan,” says David Doniger, director of the Climate and Clean Air Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Most state governors are looking at this and saying, ‘We at least ought to explore whether we can design a plan that has some additional facets to it that make it preferable to the federal one.'”
What’s more, Doniger adds, the six governors who have threatened to not submit a plan – including Greg Abbott of Texas and Mary Fallin of Oklahoma – have done only that: none has actually committed to noncompliance.
“These guys are hedging,” he says.
Still, opponents of the plan maintain six governors is far from insignificant – and their ranks may yet swell.
“States should not be afraid to do what is in their right to resist,” Tom Pyle, a former energy industry lobbyist and president of the American Energy Alliance, a political action group that has opposed the Clean Power Plan, said during Thursday’s call. “States out there should know they’re not going to be fighting this alone.”
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- On July 13, 2015