GRN Reports

The US EPA won important public backing Monday from a large business group and a faith-based environmental group for its plan to tighten up on emissions from coal-fired power plants. The endorsements came as the deadline for public comments on the proposal ended Dec. 1, with some 1.24 million people commenting on the plan at the online

EPA’s proposed new rule aimed at cleaning up coal emissions is widely considered the biggest step the Obama Administration (and therefore any administration) has taken to try to mitigate climate change. It targets coal because carbon dioxide emissions from burning this fossil fuel is the leading single source of the greenhouse gas emissions warming the planet.

The two groups issuing their support, Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) and the Evangelical Environmental Network (ENN) teamed up at a joint news conference to explain why they believe the EPA’s proposal will help move the US toward a cleaner, healthier future.

More than 103,000 individuals affiliated with ENN have registered comments supporting the Clean Power Plan because it will reduce air pollution that harms children and help curb climate change, said The Rev. Mitchell C. Hescox, president and CEO of the ENN. Evangelicals see the EPA move as benefiting both the planet and its inhabitants, which aligns with their Biblical calling to be good stewards, he said.

E2 supports the EPA plan because it will expand economic opportunities, said E2 executive director Bob Keefe. He cited a Natural Resources Defense Council (of which E2 is an affiliate) study that estimated the Clean Power Plan would create 270,000 jobs in energy efficiency at full implementation by 2030.

It also would save consumers and businesses in America some $37 billion via energy efficiency according to the study, Keefe said.

Critics of the Clean Power Plan have attacked it for its negative expected effect on coal-industry jobs, because tighter emissions standards would likely force some older coal plants to close. Some plants would not find it financially feasible to update to comply with the new requirements.

Newly re-elected Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kty), expected to serve as Senate majority leader starting in January, has called the EPA’s plans “a war on coal,” and is expected to lead the opposition.

Although the EPA rule can technically proceed without Congressional approval, Republicans in Washington and the states have said they’ll fight back, constraining the EPA’s powers, or in the case of the states, suing and refusing to comply. Some governors already have promised a legal fight.

Both Hescox and Keefe said their groups intend to fight for the plan.

“Sen. McConnell may call it a war on coal,” said Keefe. “But not supporting clean energy jobs seems like a war on clean energy to me.”

Hescox noted that coal jobs are declining already anyway, being lost to attrition and automation; and for those still in coal jobs, many will continue for years, even as some plants are phased out.

GHGs PIE CHART by EPA for 2012

US sectors emitting greenhouse gases in 2012. In the electricity sector, most of the carbon dioxide emissions come from coal-fired power plants. (Source: EPA)

It’s time to move to modern energy programs, he said. “For 100 years we’ve been paying a price for coal-fired utilities in the health of our children and the health of Americans.”
Coal should no longer be subsidized but factored at its “true cost” which is about three times what consumers pay at their electricity meter, because coal power companies are not asked to pay for their damage to the environment or the health of Americans, Hescox said.

“So it’s time to quit giving a free lunch to these external costs,” he said.

Keefe reiterated that moving off of coal would have multiple positive effects on the economy.

“There are basically three ways states can implement this policy. One, you clean up existing coal-fired power plants and to do that creates jobs and economic growth. Number two, you move to clean energy, solar, wind, biomass etc. Guess what? That creates jobs and drives economic growth. Number three, is through energy efficiency. You make our buildings, our homes our offices our schools smarter and more efficient, to save money but also to create jobs and drive economic growth. So all these things are good, not just for the economy, but for the environment as well.”

“And the business owners and investors that are members of Environmental Entrepreneurs recognize that’s good for America,” he said.

The E2 business group delivered a letter to EPA Director Gina McCarthy today laying out in detail why they support of the Clean Power Plan. The letter praises the plan for how it will protect the environment and strengthen the economy “given the rising economic threats triggered by climate change and the growing economic opportunities presented by growth in clean energy…”

Simply working to avert climate change effects will save countless billions, the letter noted.

“In the U.S. 11 weather events costing more than $1 billion each occurred in 2012, with the cost of Superstorm Sandy alone exceeding $60 billion and the drought which afflicted half the country costing $11 billion. These costs are expected to rise as climate change continues.”

The letter also urged the EPA to update its models to reflect that US electricity grids could easily accommodate getting 30 percent of their energy from renewable power sources, and also that the cost of renewable power has declined to make it even more competitive that the EPA allows in its estimations.

.”While we believe the Clean Power Plan is both a critical environmental policy and a potentially huge economic catalyst, we also think it could do more to motivate states to further invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy as part of the solution. Recent studies have shown that the U.S. electricity grid is able to effectively manage receiving up to 30 percent of its power from renewable sources with only minor adjustments to the existing grid and system planning. Additionally, recent reports have shown that costs for clean energy are significantly lower than they were just a few years ago . . . Unfortunately, the proposed EPA model greatly underestimates the growth potential and extent costs are falling for both renewable energy and energy efficiency. “

Among the letter’s signers are renewable energy companies; technology development firms; hoteliers; recyclers; marketers; consultants; scientists and financial advisers.

Several financiers from big banks and venture capital groups appear on the list, suggesting that American capital stands ready to invest in clean energy, given positive market signals.