Clean Power Plan: An Equitable Energy Transition in Rural America

Tara Ritter

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), in 2014 clean energy employed more than 7.7 million people worldwide.

In this sea­son of polit­i­cal speech­es and debates, a harm­ful myth con­tin­ues to sur­face: tak­ing action on cli­mate change will rav­age the econ­o­my. Recent­ly, this myth has been applied to the Clean Pow­er Plan, the first reg­u­la­tion in the Unit­ed States to lim­it car­bon emis­sions from exist­ing pow­er plants.

In Feb­ru­ary 2016, the Supreme Court halt­ed imple­men­ta­tion of the Clean Pow­er Plan until a fed­er­al appeals court rules on its legal­i­ty in June 2016. Although imple­men­ta­tion of the plan has been stayed, offi­cials in the Oba­ma Admin­is­tra­tion and the Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA) remain con­fi­dent that they have strong legal foot­ing and that the Clean Pow­er Plan will resume as planned once it has made its way through the courts.

(Image: iatp​.org)

A new Insti­tute for Agri­cul­ture and Trade Pol­i­cy (IATP) report, The Clean Pow­er Plan: Oppor­tu­ni­ties for an Equi­table Ener­gy Tran­si­tion in Rur­al Amer­i­ca,” out­lines how the Clean Pow­er Plan can ben­e­fit all com­mu­ni­ties, espe­cial­ly the rur­al com­mu­ni­ties that pro­duce most of the nation’s ener­gy. The report makes the case that the arti­fi­cial divide between the envi­ron­ment and the econ­o­my obscures the many oppor­tu­ni­ties for rur­al Amer­i­ca that come along with clean ener­gy development.

The Clean Pow­er Plan is designed to func­tion at the state lev­el. Each state has been assigned a unique emis­sions reduc­tion goal and has flex­i­bil­i­ty in decid­ing how to meet that goal, whether it be through ener­gy effi­cien­cy mea­sures, an increase in renew­able ener­gy or a switch from coal to nat­ur­al gas. The flex­i­bil­i­ty afford­ed to states in cre­at­ing their State Imple­men­ta­tion Plans will result in very dif­fer­ent plans from state to state, each with its own reper­cus­sions for rur­al com­mu­ni­ties in terms of jobs, ener­gy prices and more.

Jobs, com­mu­ni­ty and affordability 

Accord­ing to analy­sis from the Eco­nom­ic Pol­i­cy Insti­tute, the Clean Pow­er Plan will cre­ate 120,000 jobs in the Unit­ed States by 2020 from ener­gy effi­cien­cy projects and the con­struc­tion of new gen­er­at­ing capac­i­ty. In the same year, about 24,000 jobs will be lost from a reduc­tion in coal-fired elec­tric­i­ty gen­er­a­tion. This equates to a net gain of 96,000 jobs. How­ev­er, a net increase in jobs does not mean that every dis­placed work­er will be neat­ly pro­vid­ed with a new job. This means that states must engi­neer their State Imple­men­ta­tion Plans and oth­er poli­cies to include finan­cial sup­port and job retrain­ing for the com­mu­ni­ties most impact­ed by the transition.

In addi­tion to job cre­ation, the Clean Pow­er Plan is an impor­tant tool to keep ener­gy afford­able. If states include ener­gy effi­cien­cy as a sub­stan­tial por­tion of their plans, the EPA esti­mates that house­hold elec­tric­i­ty bills will decrease by an aver­age of $8 per month by 2030. Even if ener­gy prices per kilo­watt hour rise slight­ly at first, a decreased demand for ener­gy as a result of ener­gy effi­cien­cy improve­ments results in net sav­ings for the con­sumer. When paired with the swift­ly falling costs of renew­able ener­gy, house­hold ener­gy bills will remain sta­ble or even decrease as time goes on. The issue of ener­gy costs is par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant to rur­al com­mu­ni­ties who, on aver­age, have high­er pover­ty rates.

Final­ly, the Clean Pow­er Plan is an oppor­tu­ni­ty to move away from the cur­rent ener­gy dri­vers that dam­age the rur­al nat­ur­al resource base. Both coal and nat­ur­al gas are extrac­tive indus­tries, often con­trolled by out­side investors, that hold lit­tle long-term ben­e­fit for rur­al com­mu­ni­ties. Not only do extrac­tive indus­tries impact the land­scape and nat­ur­al resource base, but they also dri­ve a boom-and-bust cycle that leaves rur­al com­mu­ni­ties with lit­tle once the extrac­tion is com­plete. A study by Head­wa­ters Eco­nom­ics found that though fos­sil fuel extrac­tion cre­ates enor­mous wealth, most of that wealth leaves the region where the extrac­tion occurs. The Clean Pow­er Plan aims to estab­lish a clean­er, renew­able ener­gy sys­tem that will not only pro­tect nat­ur­al resources, but also avoid the boom-and-bust cycle that has his­tor­i­cal­ly hurt rur­al communities.

(Image: iatp​.org)

Cli­mate change will con­tin­ue to impact rur­al peo­ple, nat­ur­al resources and economies as long as it con­tin­ues to wors­en. The Clean Pow­er Plan takes a step towards slow­ing cli­mate change, but it can also cre­ate jobs and afford­able ener­gy sup­plies. As the Clean Pow­er Plan makes its way through the courts, states should con­tin­ue mov­ing for­ward with clean ener­gy ini­tia­tives, includ­ing devel­op­ing State Imple­men­ta­tion Plans, in order to cre­ate an ener­gy future that is fair and equi­table for all communities.

(A ver­sion of this arti­cle appeared on the Insti­tute for Agri­cul­ture and Trade Pol­i­cy web­site, iatp​.org, and is repost­ed here with per­mis­sion from the author. To read the full Clean Pow­er Plan report, click here.)

At the Insti­tute for Agri­cul­ture and Trade Pol­i­cy, Tara’s work cen­ters around cli­mate change adap­ta­tion in rur­al com­mu­ni­ties and pro­mot­ing cli­mate-friend­ly agri­cul­tur­al prac­tices. She holds a B.A. in Envi­ron­men­tal Stud­ies from St. Olaf Col­lege and a M.S. in Envi­ron­ment and Nat­ur­al Resources from The Ohio State University.
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