Over the past week, several states took action on the Clean Power Plan as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) urged governors to “wait and see” on the carbon rule, and the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) chief defended the rule.

McConnell Urges Governors to Halt Compliance Work. In a March 21 letter to the National Governors Association, McConnell claimed that the plan will not “have meaningful impact on global emissions but will punish your states’ most vulnerable citizens and ship middle-class jobs overseas.”

McConnell called on governors to consider a “wait-and-see” approach, and to scrutinize economic and legal ramifications before states sign up to the plan that “may well fall in court, given that it was unclear—in my view, unlikely—such a plan could survive legal scrutiny.” If the rule passes judicial review, “the clock would start over and your states would have ample time to formulate and submit a plan,” he noted.

As POWER has reported, the nation’s highest court on February 9 issued a stay to the plan. The D.C. Circuit is expected to hear arguments on June 2 in State of West Virginia et. al v. EPA, which conjoined lawsuits brought by 27 states and several power companies that are challenging the plan. 

McCarthy Grilled at Two Hearings. But though the Clean Power Plan has been stalled by the U.S. Supreme Court, at least 25 states have publicly declared they will begin measures to plan for the carbon rule, as EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy testified at budget hearings before two U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee subcommittees on March 22.

The EPA expects coal to remain part of the U.S. energy makeup, McCarthy told lawmakers, who took the opportunity to fault the agency chief on the plan’s implications for the coal sector (see what McCarthy told POWER about the future of coal).

Minnesota Outlines State Plan. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has submitted a preliminary outline of the state’s Clean Power Plan compliance options to the state’s legislature, SNL Energy reported on March 18. Under the plan, the MPCA will seek a two-year extension for compliance. It is also reportedly considering carbon-trading approaches but has yet to decide whether it will choose the rate- or mass-based compliance approach.

MPCA Commissioner John Stine on February 29 told a Minnesota lawmaker (who had asked the agency to “explain its decision” to continue developing the plan despite the Supreme Court’s recent stay) that “the health and longevity of our citizens is by far the most important reason for continuing our work.” Stine also pointed out that the stay was “procedural.” It was not a ruling on the merits or implementation of the rule, but “directed expressly at the EPA, and the stay makes no requirements of the states,” he said.

He added: “The stay merely delays implementation of the rule until the [D.C. Circuit] has time to rule on the petitioners’ claim against the new rule. The [D.C. Circuit] has put the matter on expedited review, a move that in itself supports the fact that the stay is only procedural, and not designed to stop or delay implementation.”

Finally, Stine warned, that if the rule is upheld by the D.C. Circuit, “there is no guarantee that states will be given any additional time to prepare and submit their plans.”

The state agencies have the backing of Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (D), who has promised to veto any legislation blocking or slowing efforts related to the Clean Power Plan. Dayton also said last week that he would “like to see Minnesota’s dependence on coal eliminated” as soon as possible.

Colorado GOP’s Efforts to Stall Plan Fail. Efforts to defund advancement of the Clean Power Plan in Colorado’s Senate failed on March 23. A proposal by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling) to cut $200,000 from the Department of Public Health and Environment got little support, with some Republicans actually opposing the measure in a voice vote.

Republicans at Odds About Plan in Nevada. In Nevada, discord between Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval and the GOP on the plan was spot lit by the first meeting of the New Energy Industry Task Force on March 22.

Sandoval created the task force in January, ordering it to work with the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection and other stakeholders to determine the best path forward for the state regarding the plan, as well as to advise Sandoval’s Office of Energy on ways to promote renewables and distributed energy. The governor noted in a February statement about the Supreme Court’s stay of the Clean Power Plan that the state was already “well on the road to compliance” with the plan. The state currently sources about 10% of its power from coal, 68% from natural gas, and 22% from renewables.

Nevada, led by Attorney General Adam Laxalt, however, is one of 27 states that are legally contesting the EPA’s authority to promulgate the rule.

During most of Tuesday’s meeting, representatives of Nevada’s energy industry that make up the task force discussed a recent net metering decision by the Public Utilities Commission, which solar proponents say will destroy its rooftop solar industry.

Missouri House Committee Blocks Bill. A bill that would require the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the Air Conservation Commission and all other state agencies to immediately suspend all activity related to complying with the EPA’s Clean Power Plan unanimously passed the House Energy and Environment Committee. The bill has been referred to the Select Committee on Utilities, where it will have to pass by a majority vote before moving on to the full House.


Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)