Clean Power Plan

Former Mass. DEP head Cash says 'no stopping' momentum on emissions caps, despite power plan uncertainty

Are states that are stopping their Clean Power Plan planning putting themselves at a disadvantage to those that continue to work on the plan by potentially losing out on economic and business opportunities available in the clean energy sector? During today's OnPoint, David Cash, dean of the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and the former commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, explains why he believes the Supreme Court's stay of the power plan will not have a long-lasting effect on efforts to cap carbon.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello, and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is David Cash, dean of the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at the University at Massachusetts, Boston. David is the former commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. David, it's so nice to have you back on the show.

David Cash: It's great to be back here. Thanks so much.

Monica Trauzzi: So, David, just about all states have now given some kind of indication as to whether they will continue to plan for the Clean Power Plan following the Supreme Court stay of the rule. Is the stay a temporary roadblock or do you think this is the beginning of the derailment of the plan?

David Cash: I think it's a temporary roadblock, and there's no question it's a setback to the movement forward. I think EPA had done a fantastic job in the development of the rule, engaging stakeholders in so many different ways all over the country, so for this roadblock to be put in place, there's no question it will slow things down, but I don't think it will have a long-lasting effect because there's so much momentum moving forward in this area. Whether it's the states that are going to continue to move forward with their planning, if it's the states like California, Oregon and Washington and the Northeast states that are in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which is about 25 percent of the country already moving forward with their own cap-and-trade program, I don't think there's any stopping. There's this huge momentum here, and I know we may talk a little bit about the Paris agreement, but there's no question now there's momentum on the global stage as well.

Monica Trauzzi: I interviewed NARUC President Travis Kavulla recently, and he indicated that it would be wasteful for regulators to spend time right now on the power plan because of the stay. Are there certain states where it just makes more sense to stop?

David Cash: So I can't speak for what's going on in the other states, and I will say I enjoyed debating with Travis when I was a commissioner of our Department of Public Utilities as well, and certainly some states will think it doesn't make sense. My perspective is why, in this environment in which there's no question the world is moving to a clean energy future, where there's no question there are huge economic opportunities waiting to be seized, why would a state want to not explore what some of the opportunities for innovation, for job growth, for research and development, for cost savings? That's something that I don't understand.

Monica Trauzzi: But from a purely economic standpoint, a state whose economy relies very heavily on coal production and exports, why would they take steps to essentially turn things upside down if it's not mandated?

David Cash: Well, we know already that purely economic reasons, both coal and in some places natural gas are going to have some problems moving forward. If I were the leadership of a state in that position, certainly I would fight to continue using coal as long as I could, but I would also start the process for building the economic opportunities for this alternative future. Whether that's going to happen in five years, 10 years or 30 years, that would be something. Again, why would I cede economic opportunity to other states or to even other countries when this was a path that there's some real potential economic growth?

Monica Trauzzi: Massachusetts is, of course, continuing its planning on the power plan. You mentioned RGGI, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. How vulnerable is RGGI right now? I mean, RGGI had been having conversations with other states looking to expand the market. So where does the stay put those types of conversations and this forward movement that was happening on growing the market?

David Cash: Again, I think the RGGI states -- and again, I'm not involved with RGGI internally, but the RGGI states have been moving forward with their cap-and-trade program regardless of what was happening at the federal level. That's always been the case. In fact, that was one of the reasons that it was started. It was to drive, as a model, potential federal and then global climate policy. So I actually don't see -- again, I don't know if they've slowed down conversations on expansion, but the time is right to start thinking about those kinds of things, and I think we can look to California and other places that have a more broad-based, economywide cap-and-trade program because, again, the wider the reach of the cap-and-trade program, the more potential benefits and least cost efforts there can be to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And many of those RGGI states, if not all of them, are involved with cross-sectoral programs also, electric vehicle programs, for example. So why wouldn't they want to start thinking about expanding beyond?

Monica Trauzzi: Entergy announced late last year it will be shutting down Massachusetts' only nuclear power plant in 2019. Can the state meet its goals -- emission reduction goals without that plant?

David Cash: So there are analyses that show that it can, depending on what the expansion of energy efficiency is. We are still harvesting low-hanging fruit on energy efficiency, and one of the analytical examples of that is that we're still getting return on investment of 3-to-1 or 4-to-1 in the most recent programs, which means there's still a lot out there. So energy efficiency still continues to be something that can be tapped more as solar programs continue to grow, and I know the Massachusetts Legislature is looking at a variety of legislation now that would provide a tailwind for both hydro from Canada and far offshore wind right off the coast of Massachusetts, which in the long run is going to be one of the keys. Just the federal leases right now is in the order of 30,000 megawatts, which is the entire demand of New England.

Monica Trauzzi: You mentioned the Paris negotiations earlier and that there's this global momentum. How difficult will it be for the United States to meet its Paris pledge if the power plan is not in place?

David Cash: Yeah, that's a really good question, and it's going to be more difficult, clearly, but again, I think that there's so much movement in states throughout the country and in cities, and that was one of the extraordinary pieces of Paris was that there was a huge driving force from both subnational actors and from the business sector. So I think there was something like 900 mayors in Paris. This is the first global agreement that even mentions subnationals. It mentions it six times in the Paris agreement. So there's clearly a reliance on what's going to be happening on the subnational level. And so, again, this -- with the Clean Power Plan, I think it was obvious that we were going to reach the targets. It's going to be more difficult if there isn't a Clean Power Plan, but I think like many, I think that ultimately the courts will support EPA's authority to regulate.

Monica Trauzzi: Climate change and energy issues more broadly, they just don't seem to be sticking this year in the presidential elections. We're not hearing much about them. These issues are increasingly important economically and from a national security standpoint. Why don't you think they're resonating with the public?

David Cash: I think that those of us who are in this field continue to struggle with how to make these kinds of issues understandable to regular people who have jobs and are getting their kids to school and are -- or maybe don't have jobs. And I think it's incumbent on us to figure out how to do that better. And there are examples throughout the states where this has happened, where people have a good understanding of how energy efficiency will help their bottom line, how being part of a solar program, whether it's on their own residence or on a community residence, can help lower their taxes, for example. And I think that kind of communication needs to happen more and more and more.

Monica Trauzzi: So we all know you from your work in state government. You've now moved on and you're in the academic world. Talk about the types of projects that you're working on now.

David Cash: So I'm at UMass Boston, and I'm at the McCormack School, which is a policy school whose vision and mandate has been to leverage as best it can to academically search to solve real-world problems. On the campus itself, we've just started this interdisciplinary program called the Sustainable Solutions Lab. Our idea is to have an agile, research-driven but action-based kind of interdisciplinary group that really engages communities around Boston and even globally on some of these issues. And it's a really exciting place to be right now.

Monica Trauzzi: Great. Congratulations on the new job. We'll end it there.

David Cash: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: Thank you for coming on the show.

David Cash: You're welcome. Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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