The State That's Simultaneously Fighting and Embracing Obama's Climate Rules

by | September 3, 2015

By Paul Egan

Michigan plans to meet aggressive targets and deadlines for carbon dioxide emissions from power plants announced by President Barack Obama and the administration of Gov. Rick Snyder will not follow Attorney General Bill Schuette in a multi-state court action to block the new rules, officials said Tuesday.

Valerie Brader, executive director of the recently created Michigan Agency for Energy, said if the state doesn't come up with its own plan to meet the federal mandates, it will be subject to a federal plan.

"Michigan does intend to develop its own ... implementation plan to assure it maintains control of its energy future," Brader said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters.

"Not to do so would put Michigan's energy decision-making in the hands of bureaucrats in Washington, D.C."

Schuette, who like Gov. Rick Snyder is a Republican, has joined a legal challenge to the carbon rules, but is "pursuing that case in his individual capacity," Brader said.

"There are no plans for the state to join the current challenges."

On Aug. 13, Schuette was among officials from 15 states to petition the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia circuit, requesting an emergency stay of the federal clean power rules.

Andrea Bitely, a spokeswoman for Schuette, said he is "committed to stopping over-regulation and excessive mandates" from the Environmental Protection Agency. Schuette said earlier he is "deeply concerned by yet another executive action taken by President Obama and the EPA " that "causes the price of electricity to increase, placing jobs at risk and costing Michigan families more."

Obama on Aug. 3 announced the first-ever nationwide regulations for carbon dioxide emissions from U.S. power plants -- a move that could put Michigan, still coal-heavy in its energy production, on a tougher road toward compliance than most states.

Snyder's pledge to try to meet the federal mandates drew praise from environmental groups and some businesses, but criticism from some conservatives who think the state is too quick to comply.

Brader, who was joined on the conference call by Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant, said Michigan will soon set out a detailed plan to consult with stakeholders in advance of submitting a plan to the federal government in September of 2016. That will allow for the submission and approval of administrative rules to make the plan enforceable by September of 2018, she said. The state will "need every second" of the time the feds are allowing, but "I do believe we can meet those deadlines and we intend to do so," she said.

The Clean Power Plan, its proponents say, will reduce the carbon pollution that's fueling climate change from its leading source -- coal-fired power plants -- as well as protecting public health from pollution-triggered asthma and other respiratory illnesses. The plan also will reduce energy bills and create jobs, Obama said.

Despite recent years of effort to transition to cleaner energy sources, Michigan still uses coal for 50% of its energy generation. A 2011 study commissioned by the Michigan Environmental Council found that the state's nine oldest coal-fired power plants cause about $1.5 billion in health care costs and damages to Michigan residents each year, and an additional $3.9 billion in impacts to residents in other states.

Michigan's carbon dioxide emission rate, as of 2012, was 1,928 pounds per megawatt hour of energy generated, according to the EPA. The Clean Power Plan calls for the state to reduce the emissions rate by 39.4%, to 1,169 pounds per megawatt hour, by 2030, with interim reduction targets along the way. The plan allows states to customize their own strategies to meet federally set goals.

Michigan is already on track to reduce its emissions rate to 1,588 pounds per megawatt hour by 2020, prior to the Clean Power Plan regulations, according to the EPA.

Brader said the final plan announced by Obama was an improvement over an earlier draft plan in that it gave Michigan additional time to comply but said a remaining weakness is that more than half of the renewable energy steps the state has already taken will not be given credit under the plan. That's a case of the federal government rewarding foot-dragging at the expense of states that moved for early compliance, she said.

Both of Michigan's large electric utilities, Consumers Energy and DTE, and several small business and environmental groups praised the action of the Snyder administration.

Consumers Energy supports the state's pursuit of "a Michigan-first energy policy," spokesman Dan Bishop said.

"Placing our energy future in the hands of Washington would be unwise, putting at risk the reliability of electric service for millions of customers and jeopardizing the significant progress Michigan has made to improve rate competitiveness," Bishop said.

Chris Kolb, president of the Michigan Environmental Council said "the Obama administration has provided a solid framework for making necessary carbon reductions and the flexibility needed to craft a plan that plays to our strengths," and "If we get it right, this plan will accelerate the growth of Michigan's clean energy industry while saving ratepayers billions of dollars, improving public health and preserving a livable world for our grandkids."

Lisa Wozniak, director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, said "by embracing the Clean Power Plan, the governor is supporting the health of our families, our communities and our air, land and water."

(c)2015 the Detroit Free Press