The “Clean Power Plan,” announced by the EPA and the White House in August, became effective on October 23, 2015, when it was published in the Federal Register.  The Plan limits emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) from all existing fossil-fuel burning power plants (and natural gas-fired electric generators). The goal is to achieve an overall 32% CO2 emissions reduction (based on 2005 levels) by 2030.  

The Plan assigns each state an individual goal for reducing CO2 emissions from power plants. These different limits for each state reflect the reality that some states are much more heavily reliant on coal-burning power and will therefore need more time to transition away from coal-based power. Under the Plan, each state will decide for itself how to achieve its goals. The Plan provides many options for states to choose from, including switching from coal to natural gas, using renewables, setting up programs to boost energy efficiency in homes, or developing individual statewide or regional cap-and-trade systems.

But the Plan has also divided the states. On the one hand, some states are already staring to see success in reducing their carbon emissions.  In fact, most states are now on track to meet the 32% emission reduction goal by 2020, and fourteen are likely to surpass those targets, according to an analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

On the other hand, twenty-four states have joined together to challenge the Plan in federal court. They filed a lawsuit, led by coal producer West Virginia, on the same day that the Plan was published. The states claim that the Plan exceeds EPA’s legal authority. But the concerns they express have less to do with legality and more with what they claim will be the effects. Coal producers like West Virginia fear damage to the coal mining industry. Some business groups raised concerns that electricity costs will go up as power plants stop burning coal. They claim that the Plan will benefit the renewable energy market as states begin to rely on more solar and wind energy.

Expressing her belief that the Plan will withstand legal scrutiny, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said, “The Clean Power Plan has strong scientific and legal foundations, provides states with broad flexibilities to design and implement plans, and is clearly within EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act.”

Observers expect a lengthy legal battle, with the ultimate showdown likely coming before the U.S. Supreme Court.  We’ll continue to monitor developments.