By David B. Rivkin, Jr., Mark DeLaquil, Andrew Grossman, June 15 2015
Note from the Editor:
This article discusses the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan under the Clean Air Act. As always, The Federalist Society takes no position on particular legal or public policy initiatives. Any expressions of opinion are those of the author. The Federalist Society seeks to foster further discussion and debate about the issues involved. To this end, we offer links to other perspectives on the subject, and we invite responses from our audience. To join the debate, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Congress’s statement of policy in the Clean Air Act that “air pollution control at its source is the primary responsibility of States and local governments” is not merely hortatory.1 It reflects both the practical reality of and constitutional limitations on federal regulation of air quality. The practical reality is that the federal government relies on the states both for the detailed policymaking necessary to achieve national goals on a state-by-state basis and for the implementation and enforcement of pollution-control programs with respect to particular sources. But, no matter its reliance, the federal government is forbidden from commandeering the states or their officials to carry out federal law, from coercing them to do so, and from invading the states’ own powers. The Clean Air Act resolves this tension through a system of “cooperative federalism” that gives states the opportunity to regulate in accordance with federal goals and provides for direct federal regulation as a backstop should they fail to do so. This accommodation allows the federal government to enlist the states’ assistance in achieving federal goals without exceeding its authority under the Constitution.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s “Clean Power Plan” (the “Proposed Rule”) abandons that careful accommodation and, in so doing, violates the Tenth Amendment and principles of federalism. The Proposed Rule requires each state to submit a plan to cut carbon-dioxide emissions by a nationwide average of 30 percent by 2030. Although ostensibly directed at emissions from fossil-fuel-fired power plants, the Proposed Rule sets targets for individual states that incorporate “beyond-the-fenceline” cuts to be achieved by increasing reliance on natural gas generation, adopting zero-emissions generation such as wind and solar, and reducing electricity demand. The goal is to phase out coal-fired power plants, which currently account for nearly 40 percent of electricity generation.
In the service of achieving EPA’s policy objectives, the Proposed Rule forces each state to overhaul its energy market. Just to keep the lights on, states will have to dramatically change their energy mix, to account for the loss of coal-fired generating capacity, and to rework their regulation of energy producers, power dispatch, and transmission. This will require changes to states’ legal and regulatory structures, as well as numerous regulatory actions directed at their own citizens—energy producers and consumers alike. In order to accomplish these objectives, even a state that declines to implement the Clean Power Plan will have to employ EPA’s “building blocks” to prevent the Plan from wrecking the state’s energy economy. And states that refuse to accede to EPA’s demand to implement this new program face the specter of financial sanctions. In short, EPA’s Proposed Rule forces the states to act to carry out federal policy. It is a gun to the head of the states: “Your sovereignty or your economy” is EPA’s ultimate demand.
Read more »