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September 27, 2016

Debates over Clean Power Plan divert from the actions that are already happening

September 27, 2016

Today, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is hearing arguments on a case brought by 27 states and over 100 companies to overturn the Clean Power Plan (CPP), the signature Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rulemaking effort to regulate the power plant emissions of greenhouse gases that cause global warming and result in other carbon pollutants. The administration released the final rule just over a year ago in August 2015, but the Supreme Court stayed its implementation last February.

The arguments do not center on the merits of carbon reduction or its economic and health effects on energy consumers or the communities surrounding the plants in question. Rather, the focus is on the EPA’s authority to regulate states’ plants under the Clean Air Act.

Most states—including some that are associated with the suit like Arizona and Louisiana—are continuing to develop their plans for CPP compliance. Their plans include responses to the potential Clean Energy Incentive Program, a CPP component that encourages early investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency, especially in low-income communities.

Past posts have reviewed the challenges of implementing the CPP in relation to low-income communities and what the rule ultimately means for them. One of these challenges is that there are so few programs designed to serve these disadvantaged groups. But, even at the local level, we are seeing progress.

  • With multifamily property residents being disproportionately lower income, property owners in the Chicago area can use Elevate Energy’s loan and rehab programs for improvements that reduce total energy consumption and costs for owners.
  • Utilities spend at least 10 percent of total electric efficiency spending and 20 percent of gas energy efficiency spending on low-income programs in Massachusetts in conjunction with the community development corporations, housing authorities, and community action agencies in the commonwealth’s Low-Income Energy Affordability Network.
  • In California, the passage and signing into law of SB 535 in 2012 was a landmark achievement for the environmental justice community regarding climate adaptation; the law requires one-quarter of the state’s cap-and-trade auction revenues to be invested in programs that benefit disadvantaged communities, and 10 percent of the funds be invested within those geographic areas.  

Fledgling programs like these can be improved, but that can’t happen if they don’t have the basic resources to serve low-income and disadvantaged clients. Upheld, the CPP will expedite and expand these programs so that best practices can be promoted and their full effectiveness evaluated.

Ultimately, these communities will continue to be the most hard pressed when it comes to energy bills, live in the least energy-efficient housing, and be the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change—regardless of the outcomes of the legal suit. 

People hold up signs during a news conference in support of the EPA's clean power plan, Monday, Aug. 3, 2015, in Las Vegas. Photo by John Locher/AP


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