What the Death of the Clean Power Plan Could Mean for Energy

clean power plan

The Clean Power Plan (CPP), the ambitious and far-reaching plan created by the Obama administration, may not have long to live.

During his campaign, Donald Trump vowed to “scrap” the CPP. His nominee for the head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, is pro-fossil fuel and anti-regulation. And the Supreme Court issued a stay of the greenhouse gas emission rule from the CPP last February and will almost certainly invalidate the CPP altogether if it decides to hear another challenge from the 27 states that have sued the EPA over the program.

Combined, these factors predict a bleak and short future for the CPP, even given the reality that regulations, once passed, are difficult to overturn outright without years of legal battles.

According to a working paper released in early January by two noted institutions, though, repeal of the CPP could trigger another, more wide-reaching regulation: the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) program.

The authors of the paper – scholars from the Center for Climate, Energy, Environment & Economics at the University of North Carolina and the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University – argue that environmental advocates would likely sue the EPA to enforce NAAQS standards should the CPP fall.

NAAQS, a program established by the Clean Air Act in 1970, seeks to regulate a range of pollutants and the sources that produce them. Standards set by NAAQS, in practice, would be very similar to those under the CPP, according to the paper’s authors. The impact, however, could be more widely felt.

To completely reduce the impact of federal regulation, the Trump administration would have to work with Congress to repeal the Clean Air Act itself, which established NAAQS, as well as other landmark federal laws governing the environment. It’s doubtful that such a move would pass a Senate filibuster (not to mention the fact that a majority of Americans don’t want to see the EPA’s powers lessened).

The political reality is that the EPA will have to work with the states and advocacy groups to enforce at least some of the provisions established by the Obama administration – at least, until the Trump administration can install judges in the courts who are more favorable to the energy industry.