Clean Power Plan Training in Port Arthur

Last week Air Alliance Houston was part of a two-day training session on the Clean Power Plan for environmental justice community members. The session was organized to provide EJ community members with assistance in making comments to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about the Clean Power Plan.

The Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce carbon emissions from power plants, is America’s biggest single step to combat global climate change. Power plants that burn fossil fuels are the largest source of carbon pollution in the United States, accounting for 31% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Coal plants are the worst offenders, and retiring old, dirty coal plants is essential to combating climate change.

The Clean Power Plan doesn’t go as far as requiring any particular emissions control measure in any state. As with most regulations related to the Clean Air Act, the Clean Power Plan has the federal government set pollution limits and the individual states reach those limits. Again, like the Clean Air Act, if the state doesn’t develop its own strategy, the federal government will step in with a “Federal Plan” to pick up the state slack.

Texas is one of twenty-four states that is suing the EPA over the Clean Power Plan. Many are afraid that Texas will decide not to develop a state plan to reduce carbon emissions, preferring instead to put all its eggs in the litigation basket. This is a tactic we have seen from Texas before, for example when the state refused to begin issuing greenhouse gas emissions permits. EPA stepped in and took over the states GHG permitting process. This supposed federal intrusion into Texas affairs led directly to our state legislator passing a law requiring the state to take the program back to EPA. (For the record, Air Alliance Houston actually agrees with most Texans here: we would prefer Texas develop its own air pollution plans, rather than forcing the EPA to do it for us.)

From now through January 21, the Environmental Protection Agency is taking comment on a set of rules that would define the generic federal plan that may be imposed on some states. Last week’s training workshop was designed to assist community members with drafting comments on the Clean Power Plan.

What can average citizens say about the Clean Power Plan? Well, you don’t have to be an expert to submit a meaningful comment. For many community members, simply describing the impact that pollution has on their lives makes a compelling story for EPA. In Port Arthur last week, our longtime friend and ally Hilton Kelley spoke about changing shorelines that may be caused by sea level rise. We also heard from residents who live near power plants and have felt the direct effects of the toxic pollution they create. (As we reduce the use of fossil fuels for electricity generation, we will realize a great deal of so-called “co-benefits” in the reduction of other pollutants in addition to carbon dioxide.)

EPA is also looking for comments on its Clean Energy Incentive Program(CEIP), which will provide incentives for projects that either (1) add renewable energy capacity, especially from wind and solar, and (2) promotes demand-side energy efficiency. Demand side energy efficiency means reducing the amount of energy needed for individual end users. These strategies will work together to decrease our nations demand for dirty energy generated by burning fossil fuels.

EPA intends to provide a certain amount of incentives in low-income communities specifically. Between now and January 21, EPA is taking comment on how much of the CEIP program should be dedicate dot these communities, and how a “low-income” community should be defined in the first place.

The overarching message of this Clean Power Plan community training was this: EPA wants input from communities in every stage of its efforts to reduce pollution. Community members must know that they have opportunities to comment on rule proposals and the option to get assistance from organizations like Air Alliance Houston when commenting. By brining together federal government officials, local environmental advocates, and environmental justice community members, the EPA hopes to get early and frequent input from all stakeholder groups.

In Texas, meanwhile, we are still hoping the state will agree to implement the Clean Power Plan at all. We’d prefer that it did, knowing that the imposition of a generic Federal Plan is not in anyone’s interest. EPA is encouraging states to follow its lead, reaching out early to stakeholder groups when developing their plans. Air Alliance Houston would jump at the opportunity to work with Texas and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality on a state plan to meet our clean power targets. We look forward to seeing how Texas and Houston–the energy capital of the world–will transition into the clean power economy of the future.