Richard Frank, LEGAL PLANET
Sensing political storm clouds ahead, California Governor Jerry Brown yesterday issued a statement on the presidential election results that concludes: “We will protect the precious rights of our people and continue to confront the existential threat of our time–devastating climate change.”
Several of my Legal Planet colleagues have recently posted thoughtful commentary on what Donald Trump’s election as the nation’s 45th president signifies for national environmental law and policy. By contrast, I’d like to focus on the potential for significant political dissonance between the incoming Trump Administration and the State of California.
In my view, that potential is sky-high, given California’s longstanding commitment to environmental and energy policies that are anathema to those articulated by Trump in the just-concluded presidential campaign and currently being reiterated by senior members of his transition team.
Business leaders, property rights advocates and Tea Party activists are all seeking the Trump Administration’s active support for their efforts to re-energize the oil, gas and coal industries, aggressively promote private development of federal lands, dismantle or curb USEPA’s regulatory programs and suspend the Obama Administration’s aggressive pursuit of greenhouse gas reduction goals. California Governor Brown’s above-quoted statement confirms that the Golden State will continue to pursue its environmental, conservation and climate change objectives notwithstanding the dramatic environmental policy shift we can expect under Trump’s presidency.
Past political history demonstrates that such a clash between California and the federal government is likely. When Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980, with both houses of Congress in Republican hands, similar political turbulence quickly developed between the Reagan Administration and Reagan’s home state of California on a number of environmental issues.
At its heart, this was, and is, a battle of federalism principles: the proper, respective roles of the federal and state governments in charting public policy, together with the legal authority of both to act.
As we gird for likely legal and political battles between California and the federal government over environmental policy, three constitutional doctrines are likely to play a key role:
- regulatory takings
- and the dormant Commerce Clause.
I briefly review each of those doctrines and their relevance below.
Read more at: What Does a Trump Presidency Portend for California’s Environmental Policies? | Legal Planet
Carl Pope, HUFFPOST GREEN
So, in seven years, the fuel that launched the industrial revolution went from the height of its magnificence to a tottering finale. How did it happen, and what is the role of the Clean Power Plant rule in the saga?
The media missed the real story on the Obama Clean Power Plan. Most outlets, like the NYT, hail it as a ground-breaking major new initiative, which “could lead to the closing of hundreds of polluting coal-fired power plants, freeze future construction of such plants and lead to an explosion in production of wind and solar energy,” while Republicans blasted it as a huge example of Presidential hubris — precisely because it would accomplish those goals.
Political insiders like Politico and Slate claim it isn’t such a big deal. And at first blush the numbers seem to support the skeptics.The new rule will require reductions in carbon pollution from the power sector by 770 million tons — 32% against a 2005 baseline. But by the end of 2014, utilities had already cleaned up 350 million tons, and emissions were cut by another 15% in the first four months of 2015.
As of last week, power companies had also announced the future shut-down of additional plants which should lead to another 120 million tons — for a pre-CPP rule total of more than 470 out of the 770 million. So most of the cuts required have already taken place or been announced. Even Kentucky, the state whose Senior Senator, Mitch McConnell, seems willing to restart the Civil War over the EPA regulations, was already retiring or had retired 14 coal boilers — and these retirements will provide most of the emission cuts required under the CPP. What’s the big deal?
It’s true that the announcement of the final version of the CPP is more in the nature of a mopping-up operation than the initial invasion of Normandy. But armies engage in mopping-up operations only after they secure victory, and the CPP did not spring like Venus from the brow of President Obama last week — there’s a long history here. The CPP is the keystone of one of the most dramatic and fundamental economic restructures in history.
To understand what’s happened, look back to the summer of 2008. Coal was generating more than half of U.S. electricity, Peabody stock was headed towards $84.05/share, up two-fold since its 2001 IPO. Export coal from Australia was selling for close to $200/ton on the back of Chinese demand. U.S. utilities had proposed to add 150 new coal fired power plants to the 500 coal boilers the country already relied upon.
Read more at: The Untold Story Behind the Clean Power Rule | Carl Pope
Karl Mathiesen, THE GUARDIAN
For the first time ever, gas has usurped coal as the biggest producer of electricity in the US. Analysts say Obama administration’s proposed climate change rules are likely to establish gas as the predominant source of electricity as early as 2020.
Figures released by the US government’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) show that in April, natural gas produced 31.5 per cent of the country’s electricity and coal 30.2 per cent.
The interregnum will not last, with coal expected to average around 35.6 per cent of generation across 2015. But a decade ago, such an inversion was unthinkable. Americans got half their electricity from coal and just a fifth from natural gas. Now the two are neck and neck.
In April a glut of fracked gas from new shale regions drove the price of gas down to just $2.50/million Btu (British thermal unit, a widely-used measure of energy), a 35 per cent drop since February. This oversupply, combined with a routine seasonal shut down of coal plants, caused gas production to creep above coal for the first time.
“Power generators often use the spring months to take their plants offline for maintenance, especially coal plants. This maintenance period happened to coincide with a period of very low natural gas [prices],” said Tyler Hodge who works on the EIA’s Short-Term Energy Outlook.
Hodge said gas prices were expected to rise again in the coming months, and coal would reassert itself at the top of the production table when plants fire up again for the winter.
In 2012, gas prices fell even lower and production almost overtook coal, but coal returned to dominance. “So this [gas surge] is by no means irreversible,” said Michael Obeiter, a senior associate in the World Resources Institute’s climate programme. But he said the short term fluctuations in gas price were compounding an overall drift away from coal and the trend favoured “natural gas becoming the dominant source for electricity generation in the US in the coming years.”
Read more at: Gas surges ahead of coal in US power generation – 15 Jul 2015 – News from BusinessGreen