On August 3rd President Obama and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the Clean Power Plan. It “takes real action on climate change,” cutting carbon emissions nationwide 32% before 2030 from 2005 levels. Obama called the initiative as the nation’s most important step to address climate change. Federal officials hope that the Plan will leverage international adoption of similar rules. Detractors have called the initiative a “war on coal” with crippling economic impacts.

The EPA claims that the Plan was shaped by years of outreach and public engagement, and that it is fair, flexible, and designed to strengthen the trend toward cleaner and lower-polluting American energy. Each state has been given a mandate to achieve a specific 2030 emissions level target. For instance, the Plan calls for a 28% reduction in Colorado’s overall carbon dioxide emissions from 2012 levels.

The EPA website states that “greenhouse gas pollution threatens Americans’ health and welfare….” “That 2014 was the hottest year in recorded history, and 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all occurred in the first 15 years of this century”…. “Overwhelmingly, the best scientists in the world… are telling us that our activities are causing climate change.” “Fossil fuel-fired power plants are by far the largest source of U.S. CO2 emissions, thus taking action now is critical.”

Despite this logic, as many as 20 states will be filing legal challenges to the Plan. The states will be joined by hundreds of trade groups, coal and power companies. It is expected to be among the most heavily litigated environmental regulations in history. The states will be joined by hundreds of trade groups, coal and power companies. They claim that the Plan unfairly targets existing coal-burning power plants and states whose economies are based on low-cost coal resources. Challenges will be received for 60 days and will then be consolidated by the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Here’s how the Clean Power Plan is slated to work: The Clean Air Act – under section 111(d) – “creates a partnership between EPA, states, tribes and U.S. territories – with EPA setting a goal and states and tribes choosing how they will meet it.”

States then develop and implement plans that ensure that the power plants in their state – either individually, together, or in combination with other measures – achieve the interim CO2 emissions performance rates over the period of 2022 to 2029 and the final CO2 emission goals by 2030. For those states that don’t comply and make plans, the EPA will plan for them as it has for other pollutant inactions, imposing mandates on specific emissions sources.

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