Frank Kohlasch, one of the lead architects of Minnesota’s compliance strategy for the Obama administration’s signature climate regulation, had just arrived at St. Cloud State University last Tuesday when news broke that the Supreme Court had slammed the brakes on the federal effort. St. Cloud State was hosting the first of four statewide public “listening sessions” on U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan, where Kohlasch and his Minnesota Pollution Control Agency colleagues expected questions from citizens about what exactly the agency would require of Minnesota’s power plants. But the first query stumped him.
Governors of 17 states today announced a new bipartisan agreement to promote clean energy but steered clear of touching on climate change. Led by California Gov. Jerry Brown (D), Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), the pact is aimed at boosting energy efficiency and renewable energy, modernizing the electricity grid and promoting electric and alternative fuel vehicles.
“Last week, the Clean Power Plan was basically dead,” said Brian Potts, a lawyer with the Foley & Lardner law firm who represents companies on environmental regulatory issues. “But with Scalia’s death, everything has changed.” Environmental lawyers involved in the litigation who support the regulation told Reuters Monday that even before Scalia’s death they had been hopeful the Supreme Court would ultimately uphold it upon close consideration. But they said the change in the high court bolsters the rule’s chances.
Gov. Jay Inslee (D) said Wednesday that he would keep working on compliance with EPA’s Clean Power Plan, as well as his own state-level rule to limit emissions from all large industrial sources. “Here in Washington state we are unfortunately already seeing the harmful impacts of climate change, and we will continue to take steps that reduce carbon and to lead the nation in clean energy,” he said in a statement. “The EPA’s Clean Power Plan remains a crucial tool to ensure that every state must do its part, and to empower them to do so.”
“There isn’t any link between renewables and lower oil prices in the short-term,” says Richard Chatterton, an analyst for Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “It’s a common misconception from some observers that oil still plays a direct role in power generation in the majority of countries whereas that’s no longer the case.”
Three Democrats with key roles in energy policymaking yesterday called on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to prop up the only existing federal law that encourages the use of renewable energy in electricity production. On June 29, FERC will hold a conference on implementation issues under the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act, or PURPA, of 1978. The law created a market for power from non-utility power producers, including natural-gas-fired “cogeneration” plants and other renewable energy sources.
With the Supreme Court having eight sitting justices divided evenly among ideological lines in the wake of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, it won’t be easy to secure majority opinions. If the court splits 4-4, it upholds a lower court decision without setting a precedent.
Just last week, the court issued a 5-4 order halting the rule while the legal battle plays out, with Scalia on the side of the majority voting to freeze the regulation. The high court’s rebuke of the Clean Power Plan was widely viewed as a sign that the nine justices could ultimately decide to torpedo the rule after digging into the merits of the lawsuits. But with the pending arrival of a new justice — and the possibility that the court could soon shift to the left — the fate of the Clean Power Plan is far from certain.
The state of California has dealt a major blow to a long-proposed utility-scale solar power project, deciding the owners of the planned Palen Solar Electric Generating System missed a deadline to file a revamped plan of development, meaning the new owners must start the permitting process over from scratch. The five-member California Energy Commission voted unanimously in a hearing today to deny a request from a subsidiary of San Diego-based EDF Renewable Energy Inc. to extend to June 2017 a deadline to begin construction of the planned photovoltaic solar project
The long-stalled offshore wind project planned for the coastal waters off Massachusetts could face even more legal roadblocks. Federal appeals court judges signaled skepticism about whether the government had properly determined how to minimize the project’s impact on migratory birds. The Cape Wind project, intended to be the country’s first offshore wind farm, has been beset by legal and financial problems in recent years.