Supporters, opponents agree: Obama Clean Power Plan will do little on its own to combat global warming

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Secretary Donald van der Vaart (left) and Lt. Governor Dan Forest (right) listen to presentations at the N.C. Energy Policy Council meeting Sept. 16.

RALEIGH – In two presentations on successive days in the Triangle, opinions about President Obama’s Clean Power Plan varied widely among regulators, academics and business advocates. But there was agreement on one outcome of the plan, which would reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants nationwide – it will do little on its own to reduce global temperature rise.

A Wednesday meeting of the N.C. Energy Policy Council included a presentation on the plan by John Evans, chief deputy secretary for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Evans repeatedly called the rule, which went into effect in August, the “federalized power plan.” He says North Carolina’s power-generation fleet has already reduced CO2 emissions substantially since 2005 but that the plan would not allow the state to take credit for those reductions because it uses a 2012 “baseline” year.

But the most surprising thing Evans said was that the EPA itself claimed that the rule would have only a 0.018 degrees Celcius by 2100.

Duke University professor Richard Newell, a member of the N.C. Energy Policy Council, did not deny that little impact to global temperatures would be felt, but said that it was important for the United States to show leadership on the issue of climate change.

Heath Knakmuhs, Senior Policy Director, Institute for 21st Energy Policy, U.S. Chamber

Heath Knakmuhs, Senior Policy Director, Institute for 21st Energy Policy, U.S. Chamber

“While it’s correct that reducing a ton of CO2 emissions is going to have a very, very small impact on global temperature change, in each of these different pieces, when you add them together – not just in North Carolina, not just in the United States, not just in the power sector but across all sectors, and then globally – that’s where the impact comes from,” said Newell, who was appointed by Obama to be chief of the U.S. Energy Information Administration in 2009.

Newell said that the actions the United States takes on its own on climate change will give it leverage in international negotiations with China and other countries.

“If you want to actually address the global climate change problem,” Newell said, “it’s going to be through individual actions of this type, which, taken together, could have an impact on climate change.”

But Heath Knakmuhs, a policy expert for the US Chamber’s Institute for 21st Energy Policy, said that other countries were unlikely to follow America’s lead on the issue, since “the rest of the world is aggressively building new coal plants.”

Knakmuhs spoke at the NC Chamber’s Energy and Environmental Management conference in Cary Thursday. He is worried about the ability of U.S. businesses to compete in an environment of higher energy prices under the plan, which he called a “redesign of our electricity system.”

“Because U.S. businesses compete on a global scale, the electricity and related price increases resulting from EPA’s rule will severely disadvantage energy-intensive, trade-exposed industries such a chemicals and manufacturing,” he said.

But while Knakmuhs and Evans may agree on the scope of the Clean Power Plan, they disagree on a strategy to fight it. DENR officials have said that they intend to submit a state plan to the EPA to comply with the parts of the rule that are legal while fighting the other parts in federal court.

But Knakmuhs says there is no reason to rush into a State Implementation Plan, saying that “a lot of failed legislative proposals from Congress in 2009 are rolled into the Clean Power Plan.”