Utilities shrug off court decision, say carbon-cutting plans are on track
In a town famous for news leaks, the Supreme Court managed to deliver a genuine surprise when it moved this week to freeze the Obama administration’s signature regulation on climate change, raising doubts about U.S. promises to cut pollution blamed for Earth’s warming.
But although Tuesday’s ruling startled the White House and rattled U.S. allies, it appears to have had little effect on the electricity providers most directly affected by the Clean Power Plan. About 48 hours after the court’s decision, major utility companies are reacting to the move with a collective shrug.
Executives for electricity producers and industry trade associations say they expect little deviation from what was already an industry-wide move from coal-burning to cleaner and cheaper forms of energy to produce electricity. The shift is likely to accelerate further in the near future, industry officials and analysts said, meaning that many of the administration’s carbon-cutting goals may be met regardless of what courts and lawmakers ultimately decide to do.
“Electric utilities are investing in clean energy and pursuing energy efficiency,” Tom Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute, the largest trade association of electricity providers, told a gathering of Wall Street investors less than a day after the Supreme Court announced its stay on the Clean Power Plan.
Institute officials said the court’s 5-to-4 decision “doesn’t really change anything” in an industry in which nearly all new electricity generation is coming from wind or solar facilities or from hyperefficient generators that burn natural gas. “You can’t simply put the genie back in the bottle when it comes to major strategic investments that the captains of industry are making,” said Quin Shea, the institute’s vice president for environment.
Even companies that have joined lawsuits against the administration over the rules said they already were on track to deliver reductions in carbon emissions on a scale that the Clean Power Plan envisions. For American Electric Power, an electricity provider and one of the country’s top coal users, the court case “doesn’t change our focus on the diversification of our generation fleet,” said spokeswoman Melissa McHenry. Those diversification plans include more natural gas and renewables, she said.
Administration officials on Thursday delivered an impassioned defense of the controversial regulations while also attempting to reassure other governments that U.S. promises to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions would be honored. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy declared in a speech that “nothing has changed” in the overall commitment to cut U.S. carbon emissions by up to 28 percent in the next 15 years, compared with 2012 levels.
“Am I disappointed in the court’s decision? My answer is ‘absolutely, yes,’ ” McCarthy told a gathering of state environmental regulators. “Does it stop or slow this country’s transition to a low-carbon future? Absolutely not.”
She described clean-energy tax credits approved by Congress last year as a kind of guarantor of continued progress on climate change. Recent decisions by Wall Street banks to invest billions of dollars in clean-energy projects were driven by market forces, not regulations, she said.