EPA Has Until Today to Respond to Arizona's Concerns with the Clean Power Plan

According to a letter sent by Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich and 15 other state AGs to the Environmental Protection Agency, the federal agency has until 1 p.m. PST today to respond to a request for a stay on a section of the finalized Clean Power Plan it released earlier this week.

The 16 states signing onto the letter call the plan “fundamentally flawed and unlawful,” and note that “at the very minimum, the states and their citizens should not be forced to suffer these serious harms until the courts have had an opportunity to review the rule's legality.”

Under the new Clean Power Plan, each state has one year to prepare and submit a detailed 15-year program to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-fired power plants. The national goal is to reduce C02 emissions by 30 percent (based on 2005 levels), but Arizona is required to cut emission rates by 52 percent. The EPA used a formula based C02 emissions and energy requirements – see here for explanation – and says every state has a great deal of flexibility to design and implement its emissions reduction program.

States are required to meet the federally mandated goals by increasing the efficiency of existing plants and by meeting more of their energy needs through natural gas and renewable energy sources like solar and wind. If a state does not submit a plan, or submits an insufficient one, the EPA will design one for it that it must then impose.

While the federal government says the Clean Power Plan is an important part of reducing the catastrophic problems of global climate change – it's expected to be a large part of President Obama's environmental legacy – critics believe the government is overstepping its jurisdiction and infringing on state sovereignty.

“The EPA doesn’t have the legal authority to issue these mandates,” Brnovich says in a statement.

The Obama administration says the act is legal and argues that Section 111 of the Clean Air Act gives it the authority to issue these guidelines. According to the EPA , Section 111 allows it “to issue standards, regulations or guidelines, as appropriate that address carbon pollution from new and existing power plants, including modifications of those plants.”

The authors of the letter take specific issue with sub-section d of the 111 rule, which mandates states design programs based on EPA-established guidelines. This rule will “coerce the states to expend enormous pubic resources and [put] aside sovereign priorities to prepare state plans of unprecedented scope and complexity,” they write.

Brnovich says a stay on this rule is necessary to “protect Arizonans from increased energy prices and will preserve jobs as the final rule is challenged in court.”

How the new plan will affect the economy and energy prices, however, is hotly debated across the country. Critics, like Brnovich and many other Arizona politicians, believe it will cause the price of energy to spike and lead to great unemployment. Proponents of the plan argue just the opposite.

Sandy Bahr, director of the Arizona chapter of the Sierra Club remarked that the plan “marks the end of an era for dirty power plants that have spewed dangerous pollution into our air without limits for too long. [We are beginning] a new era of growth for affordable and safe clean energy sources that don’t fuel climate disruption and sicken our communities...Our public officials should stand with countless Arizonans throughout our state by siding with more clean energy jobs and cleaner air and water by supporting the Clean Power Plan."

If the EPA does not respond on time, the 16 petitioners will “seek emergency relief” from the courts.

**We'll keep you updated on whether the EPA meets the 1 p.m. deadline.

Update 8/7/15: The EPA did not respond, and Attorney General Brnovich issued the following statement: “We are disappointed the Environmental Protection Agency did not respond to our request for stay by today’s deadline. We are carefully considering our next steps. I remain committed to fighting these mandates. My primary obligation and duty is to protect hard-working Arizona taxpayers and to defend the constitution.”
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Miriam is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Miriam Wasser