Navigant Research Blog

Presidential Candidates at Odds on Climate Change

— October 6, 2016

Oil RigOne year ago, my colleague Casey Talon published a blog on the energy and climate change policies of various presidential hopefuls. With the nominees now chosen and the first official presidential debates now over, the nation’s energy future should be clearer, but widely disparate policies have instead made it more nebulous than ever. Let’s take a look at how each nominee could affect US climate policy.

  • Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s plan for climate action involves a heavy focus on solar panels, increasing the installed base of solar power in the United States by 700% within her first term. Clinton’s plan also includes creating a White House transmission office, which would coordinate permitting for siting transmission lines on the state and federal levels. This plan would rely heavily on either a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions or a carbon tax. Without increased pricing for emissions, natural gas is currently too cheap for renewable energy to be competitive in some applications. One item Clinton’s plan is relatively vague about is energy storage. In order to meet the solar energy goals set forth by the presidential nominee, a large amount of storage would have to be implemented, as solar and wind are both intermittent power sources that do not necessarily produce power at the time when electricity demand is greatest.
  • Republican nominee Donald Trump promises a return to coal-fired power plants, as well as other fossil fuels. The candidate’s America First energy plan involves a dissolution of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Clean Power Plan, as well as the EPA itself. Any move toward clean power would be entirely dependent on free market adoption. Shifting back to more coal power could be problematic from an emissions perspective, as 71% of 2015 carbon emissions from the electric power sector came from coal. Meanwhile, natural gas, the second largest fossil fuel energy source, represented only 28% of emissions. Increasing CO2 emissions would not only mean a faster rise in global temperatures, but also a deviation from international agreements on climate change. In addition, due to declining renewable energy prices and the increasing prevalence of natural gas fracking, coal is not as economically attractive an option as it once was. A lack of regulation surrounding the energy sector could either result in widespread adoption of renewables on the market or a sharp rise in carbon emissions.

Electricity demand is increasing in the United States, and carbon emissions have remained fairly consistent in the past several years. It is true that cleaner energy is needed in greater quantities, both to balance out the added demand from smart metering, electric vehicles, and increasingly connected cities and to reduce emissions. In the 2015 Paris Agreement, the United States promised to cut its carbon emissions 28% below 2005 levels by 2025. It’s currently not on track to reach that goal, and a reduction in the amount of clean power being utilized would hinder the nation’s ability to meet this pledge.

The future of America’s energy policy is uncertain. November’s election could bring some much needed clarity.

 

Key Takeaways from the CPP Oral Arguments

— September 30, 2016

AnalyticsOn Tuesday, September 27, the hottest ticket in Washington, DC was for a seat in the courtroom to hear oral arguments in the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Clean Power Plan (CPP) appeals. Below are some key takeaways from the proceedings.

Oral arguments were thorough and the judges were well-prepared. The discussion took almost twice as long as scheduled; the court allotted 218 minutes for arguments, and the hearing lasted nearly 7 hours.

Transforming the Sector?

A key issue was whether or not the CPP rule is transformative to the electric sector. The EPA is walking a fine line here because it wants to tout the positive impacts the rule will have on climate change and air pollution without indicating that the CPP is transformative enough to warrant a clear directive statement from Congress. Questions included whether the Clean Air Act was intended for this purpose, and what to do when Congress fails to act. The fact that a number of utilities intervened in support of the EPA and spoke to the issue of the ongoing shift to low-carbon generation sources (e.g., natural gas and renewables) may weaken petitioners’ case that the EPA overstepped its authority, meaning congressional action is required for such a change.

At Navigant, we have been modeling regulations on CO2 from power plants since President Obama first announced that this kind of regulation would be a part of his Climate Action Plan in 2013. A number of factors, including continuing low gas prices and ever lower renewable costs, make emissions reduction actions more cost-effective. This is to say that the CPP is not as costly to achieve in our current future outlook than it appeared a few years ago. The court’s focus on this point indicates that the judges recognize the nature of the ongoing energy transformation may be in line with current trends.

Other challenges brought in front of the judges on Tuesday included whether a Best System of Emission Reduction (BSER) that extends beyond the fence line (i.e., outside of the regulated generation plant) is allowed under section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act. Based on feedback from attendees, this issue did not seem as contentious as originally expected. Discussions on differences between the House and Senate versions of the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments also seemed less contentious than originally thought.

Procedural Notice

The other challenge that I found interesting was the issue of procedural notice. Petitioners’ challenge that there are major differences between the proposed and final rules and contend that the EPA should have reissued the rule allowing for additional comments prior to finalizing it. If the judges agree, the court may not have to rule on the merits of the case and the CPP could be sent back to the EPA for additional comments. At that point, it would be up to the next president and administration to move the CPP forward. Under those circumstances, the reissued CPP would also likely see appeals through the DC Circuit and US Supreme Court, likely pushing back compliance.

The case was heard in front of 10 judges, 6 Democratic appointees, and 4 Republican appointees. Regardless of the DC Circuit’s decision (expected in early 2017), most agree that this case is likely to be appealed to the US Supreme Court. In its current makeup, the Supreme Court is largely assumed to be split 4‑4 on the issue.

 

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