Speak Now or Forever Hold Your PR
Last week, while many watched with baited breath as EPA Administrator Pruitt was grilled at hearings on Capitol Hill – more for his travel preferences and security muscle than his policies – an important deadline came and went: the deadline for comment on the repeal of the so-called Clean Power Plan.
And it’s ironic that, just as protesters in the Hill donned green t-shirts and reportedly performed “street theater,” the theater continued in the form of comments pleading with EPA to reconsider its repeal.
Some companies and organizations took the opportunity to reinforce their stance on climate change, with many listing their own climate credentials. One company talked about its goal for 100 percent renewable energy operations. Another group talked about its farmer education programs. While all the actions cited were interesting, none were particularly relevant to the discussion of the repeal of the CPP. Rather than giving any solid argument for why the CPP should be saved, most of the comments were symbolic of their authors’ climate commitment…much like the CPP itself.
How so? In her waning days as administrator of the EPA, Gina McCarthy said that the CPP was largely symbolic – a PR show of the then administration’s pledge to tackle climate change. She also said that the Trump administration’s actions regarding the CPP – scrap it or save it – would have little impact one way or another.
It seems Administrator McCarthy had already come to terms with what we know to be true.
The Clean Air Act does not authorize the CPP. The CPP would require a radical reengineering of the electric grid. The former administration said its purpose is to compel an “aggressive transformation in the domestic energy industry” and create a “new energy economy.” This is what Venezuela did. Thankfully, it’s not something any administration can unilaterally choose to do here.
The CPP would force the premature retirement of existing coal-fired power plants, pummeling competition even further, and raising electricity costs for Americans. The CPP would force the retirement of an additional 17,000 MW of coal-fired capacity – enough to power about 12 million homes – and increase retail customers’ power bills by $148 billion (constant 2017 dollars) over a 20-year period (not including the costs associated with integrating new variable sources of electricity generation into the grid).
Remember the cold snap in December/January, when coal came to the rescue? If not for coal, let’s just say Americans from Illinois to Pennsylvania would have needed a lot more of those green t-shirts to stave off the chill. Nothing says it more plainly than the National Energy Technology Labs report, which found “without available capacity from partially utilized coal units, PJM would have experienced shortfalls leading to interconnect-wide blackouts.”
Finally, the CPP would have had no meaningful impact on climate. Even as it devastated the coal industry, the CPP would have resulted in a reduction in global temperatures of a mere 0.02°C by 2100.
Those seeking to save the CPP no doubt had noble intentions. But illegal attempts to take out an entire industry – an industry that supplies 40 percent of the world’s electricity and holds the key to bringing many developing countries out of energy poverty – must be called out for what they are and stopped.
There’s a better solution. Advanced coal technologies exist today that eliminate nearly all regulated emissions and significantly reduce CO2emissions.
Imagine if all the energy currently being channeled into street theater and PR grand gestures were redirected into making tangible change by supporting upgrades our existing fleet. We just might have action that is more than symbolic.
- On April 30, 2018