As the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit prepares to hear oral arguments in the challenge against U.S. EPA's Clean Power Plan, how will the science of climate change play into the arguments? During today's OnPoint, Kenneth Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, discusses his organization's recently filed brief in the case and talks about the role of the power plan in helping the U.S. meet its Paris emissions target.
Monica Trauzzi: Hello, and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Kenneth Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists. Ken, thanks for coming back on the show. Nice to see you.
Kenneth Kimmell: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here.
Monica Trauzzi: So, Ken, UCS recently filed a brief in the Clean Power Plan case that is currently before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. The focus of the brief is, of course, science-based and you talk about deep emissions reduction being needed to limit the risk of climate change. It's widely thought that the power plan is really just an initial step and doesn't get the U.S. to its Paris commitment. So why, then, is the CPP the regulatory tool that is needed at this time?
Kenneth Kimmell: Well, what we say in the brief is it's a necessary tool but it's not a sufficient tool. So we need the Clean Power Plan. We also need a lot of other policies, both to hit the 26 to 28 percent reduction pledge which we've made, but also to be in a position where in a few short years, we're able to offer to the world, as other countries will do, a more ambitious pledge for the year 2030. So the Clean Power Plan is a key element of both of those promises we made, but you're right, it's not enough in and of itself.
Monica Trauzzi: The coalition of challengers has focused on elements of jurisdiction and process in large part in their briefs. How much of a role do you anticipate science will play in the oral arguments, and should the science of climate change sway the panel in any given direction?
Kenneth Kimmell: Well, having been a lawyer myself, having worked for a judge for a year out of law school, here's a bombshell. Judges are human beings and they think very, very hard about the consequences of the decisions they make, and those types of very practical considerations do enter into thinking, and we want them to. We want judges not to act like legal robots but to consider the full range of circumstances. So we felt it was really important to write a brief that said as concisely as we could how dangerous runaway climate change is, how difficult it's going to be to cut our emissions in time to stave off the worst effects, and the role that the Clean Power Plan plays in that cause so that they can really understand that this case really has enormous stakes.
Monica Trauzzi: If the rule is upheld and we see a delay in the implementation timeline of the power plan, how does that affect the U.S.'s ability to meet its Paris commitments?
Kenneth Kimmell: I think a delay won't be fatal at all to those commitments. As long as it's upheld and the states are on the track, I think that's going to be OK. One of the things that we're very encouraged by, of course, is that Congress renewed the tax incentives for wind and solar, and that's going to really help in these early years until 2020 increase the penetration of renewable energy. So I think that if the rule is upheld and just delayed for a year or two, I think we'll be fine.
Monica Trauzzi: Could the natural shift that we see already occurring in the power sector's business model achieve many of the goals that the power plan is seeking to achieve without regulatory action?
Kenneth Kimmell: Well, I do think one of the great things about the Clean Power Plan is it's sort of swimming with the tide instead of against the tide. A lot of these transitions away from coal and towards renewable energy are clearly happening on their own, and that is great, but it's also true, and most of the modeling I've seen have suggested that the Clean Power Plan does add, you know, millions of tons of additional reduction beyond a business' usual case. So the answer is we need the power sector to continue what they're doing, we need to continue to take advantage of the lowering of solar and renewable energy costs, but we also need the Clean Power Plan to help drive that change, particularly when the tax incentives expire in 2020.
Monica Trauzzi: Many states have completely halted action on the power plan pending a decision from the courts. What signal does that send about the U.S.'s resolve in acting on climate?
Kenneth Kimmell: You know, I do think it's unfortunate, but like all things with the Clean Power Plan, the glass is also half full because a number of states, I think about 20, have said notwithstanding the stay, they're going to go forward and plan for renewable energy in their states and enjoy those benefits. But I do think that if the Clean Power Plan were struck down, which I don't think will happen, that will send a signal that we don't want to have. We -- the Paris agreement happened in part because the U.S. and China and other countries came to Paris with some really bold pledges. Meeting those pledges is just as important as making them, and the world's looking to us for leadership, and I think if we can go forward with the Clean Power Plan and show the world that we meant what we said and our commitments are real, that will help make sure other countries do the same thing.
Monica Trauzzi: And factoring into all of this, of course, is politics. Whoever the next president is, they will have a huge role in shaping the future of climate policy here in the U.S. and also dictate whether the U.S. meets its Paris commitments. Is that almost more of a critical aspect to the discussion than litigation on the power plan because there's so much else that needs to be done beyond the power plan?
Kenneth Kimmell: You know, they're both really important. As we said at the beginning of the conversation, in order to meet that goal we've set for ourselves for 2025, we need the Clean Power Plan to be intact, so that we look to the courts to make sure that happens, and we need policies to build off of that, and we do look to the next president to do that and the next Congress, but also states and local governments and businesses as well. So it's not all up to the new president. There's a lot of different actors that have to participate to get us to our goal.
Monica Trauzzi: All right, we'll end it right there. Thank you for coming on the show. Nice to see you again.
Kenneth Kimmell: Thank you. My pleasure.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.
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