The US can do better than the Clean Power Plan

The US can do better than the Clean Power Plan
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Citing inconsistencies with the Clean Air Act and principles of cooperative federalism, EPA Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittSaluting FOIA on its birthday Watchdog found EPA employees kept on payroll by Trump appointees after they were fired: report Oklahoma AG resigns following news of divorce, alleged affair MORE has signed a measure to repeal the Clean Power Plan (CPP). Legal inconsistencies notwithstanding, the CPP is an uninspiring, overly simplistic rule that will have little impact on global carbon emissions, provide no leadership in carbon reduction for developing economies and do little to promote innovation in advanced technologies — particularly nuclear power. 

The U.S. can do better than the CPP, and now perhaps it can as the U.S. electric power sector is being discussed in parallel tracks, one of which is Energy Department’s recent study on grid reliability. This presents the current administration with an opportunity to apply cooperative federalism in a creative and more coordinated policy framework that aligns with the realities of contemporary global geopolitics, has greater potential to impact global carbon emissions and that benefits state economies and U.S. industry — thus, jobs. 


Rather than targeting the U.S. electric power sector for emissions reductions, a comprehensive collaboration involving EPA, the Energy Department, the State Department and the Commerce Department (via the International Trade Administration) would be more effective and yield greater economic and climate benefits.


First, Energy Department should empower the national energy labs to aggressively develop collaborative partnerships with U.S. industry and state universities in the research and development of advanced nuclear power and carbon capture and storage technologies. While renewables are often assumed to be the great green hope for a low-carbon future and while they should be part of the way forward, the inherent intermittency and storage limitations will not allow them to stand up against carbon emissions at the global scale. As developing regions continue consuming coal and natural gas, carbon capture and storage technologies will be needed. 

Nuclear power along with carbon capture and storage have been identified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as necessary technologies for reducing global carbon. Moreover, these technologies, when fully developed, will be highly marketable throughout the world and generate economic benefits to states that engaged in the research and development.

Beyond the economic benefits, nuclear power is a dual issue as it serves not only as the single most energy-dense low-carbon resource on earth, it also has national security implications that will be magnified if civilian nuclear power is eliminated from the U.S. industrial complex.

Second, the State and Commerce Departments should engage in strategic diplomatic negotiations in developing regions where energy-dense resources are being consumed and advanced technologies are critical.

One of the major shortcomings of the CPP is the assumption that a reduction in U.S. carbon emissions is a net global reduction. However, over the past 15 years, for every metric ton of carbon reduction in the U.S., 18 metric tons were emitted by China and India alone.

Simply put, the U.S. can have a greater impact on global carbon reductions through U.S. industry engagement in low-carbon technologies in developing regions, rather than trying to squeeze a few more drops of carbon from the U.S. power sector. This not only contributes to a reduction in global carbon emissions, it stimulates innovation and creates investment opportunities for U.S. industry, thus benefitting the states.

Of equal importance, this will help project a greater U.S. presence in Eurasia where efforts such as China’s Belt and Road Initiative have become dominant economic forces and U.S. economic influence is waning. This is particularly acute in the civilian nuclear power sector where the U.S. is sacrificing its leadership role.

Lastly, EPA, Energy Department, the State Department and the Commerce Department should coordinate with states and U.S. industry to establish a strong regional coalitions of pragmatic energy and environmental centrists who recognize the inherent politics of energy policy but are guided by the realities of science, engineering and economic development. We should be looking to those who comprehend the magnitude of global carbon emissions, and who acknowledge the need to develop high impact technologies for energy-dense resources — not just renewables.

Such a bipartisan coalition would serve to provide stability and resilience in U.S. energy policy through the political shifts inherent to U.S. election cycles.

Hopefully, this reprieve by Pruitt will be used for developing an innovative and coordinated cooperative federalism that can provide economic benefits to states and have a real impact on climate — global climate — without trying to do so on the back of the U.S. electric power sector. 

The U.S. can do better than the CPP. Better for U.S. states and better for the world.

David Gattie is an associate professor of engineering in the College of Engineering at the University of Georgia where he established the university’s first environmental engineering degree program in 2009. His research focus is energy policy and the electric power sector. Prior to UGA, he worked 14 years in private industry as an energy services engineer and an environmental engineer.