Obama Carbon-Reduction Plan Will Force States to Act More Like California

LOS ANGELES (Los Angeles Times/TNS) -
A hill of coal at the North Omaha Station, a coal-burning power station, in Omaha, Neb.  (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, file)
A hill of coal at the North Omaha Station, a coal-burning power station, in Omaha, Neb. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, file)

President Barack Obama’s plan to cut carbon pollution from power plants over the next 15 years will force states to address climate change by pushing them to act more like California.

The Clean Power Plan announced this week poses significant challenges for states that rely on coal-fired power plants for much of their electricity, but complying with the rules will be a breeze for California. That’s because the state has practically eliminated coal from its energy portfolio and leads the nation with the toughest regulations to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

California officials said Monday that their existing climate change programs put the state on course to meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s new carbon-dioxide emissions target years ahead of schedule.

If anything, the federal government’s measures could accelerate the transition to solar, wind and other renewable energy sources that was spurred on by California’s policies, experts said. And green business groups said the EPA’s rules are likely to boost the California economy, which is at the forefront of developing technology for renewable energy and efficiency.

“This is going to expand the markets that California policies have worked to establish,” said Mary Solecki, Western states advocate for Environmental Entrepreneurs, a nonprofit advocacy group of business leaders.

Nationwide, the new climate change regulations are expected to cut the electricity sector’s greenhouse gas emissions 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, according to EPA estimates. The rules, issued under the federal Clean Air Act, give each state its own pollution reduction goal and allow each to choose the measures it will use to comply.

The new rules won’t have much direct effect on California because they are less stringent than the carbon-cutting targets already on the books. State regulators have for years targeted carbon emissions with strict standards on vehicle emissions, energy efficiency, low-carbon fuels and renewable power. Key to California’s efforts is the cap-and-trade program to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, factories, transportation fuels and other major sources.

Solar and wind industry trade groups said Obama’s plan could foster more regional cooperation, with potential for some states to develop renewable energy projects to trade the emissions reductions with their neighbors.

“The EPA rules are going to drive a lot of renewable energy investments in the rest of the country, including Western states that border California,” said Tom Darin, senior director of Western state policy for the American Wind Energy Association, an industry trade group.