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As Obama Clean Power Plan Fades, States Craft Strategies To Move Beyond It

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As Obama Clean Power Plan Fades, States Craft Strategies To Move Beyond It

Environment

As Obama Clean Power Plan Fades, States Craft Strategies To Move Beyond It

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump is spending his first week in office reversing Obama administration policies. He's already signed executive actions on health care, two controversial oil pipelines, and he is promising to undo President Obama's plan to reduce carbon emissions from power plants.

NPR's Jennifer Ludden joins us now with a couple of different stories about how this may play out around the country. Hey, Jennifer.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Where does this Clean Power Plan stand right now?

LUDDEN: It is on hold. It is tied up in court. So about two dozen mostly conservative states had sued the Obama administration to block the plan. We could have a decision on that any day now. But if it's upheld, the Trump administration would likely appeal. So practically speaking, for now, a lot of people already consider this Clean Power Plan dead.

SHAPIRO: This plan was supposed to be the main way that the U.S. carried out its commitment under the Paris climate deal. So if this is effectively dead, does that mean the U.S. just won't meet its commitment?

LUDDEN: Well, it's up now to each state. So each one had a target for how much it was supposed to reduce carbon emissions. We decided to look at two places that feel very differently about this plan and tackling climate change.

SHAPIRO: So you've brought us two stories. We're going to look at what's happening in North Dakota in just a moment. First, we have North Country Public Radio's David Sommerstein reporting from upstate New York.

DAVID SOMMERSTEIN, BYLINE: It's cloudy and slushy in Canton, hardly ideal solar weather. But when dairy farmer Rick Moore checks on his new solar array tucked by a slouching red barn, it's squeezing out power.

RICK MOORE: You still get rays that still help heat it up.

SOMMERSTEIN: The system harnesses the sun to heat water Moore uses to spray down milking equipment. It'll save him a thousand dollars a year and help reduce carbon emissions that Moore says are changing the climate.

MOORE: We had winters when I first started that (laughter) you had three feet of snow and cold for two weeks at a time. And you're not seeing that nowadays.

SOMMERSTEIN: New York state paid for almost the whole system. It sees Rick Moore as a tiny piece of a puzzle that adds up to getting half of New York's power from renewables by 2030 even without Obama's Clean Power Plan. In fact, Governor Andrew Cuomo is now doubling down on that goal.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANDREW CUOMO: And we are not going to stop until we reach a hundred percent renewable because that's what a sustainable New York is really all about.

(APPLAUSE)

SOMMERSTEIN: New York is pouring billions into everything from solar to smart power grids, huge offshore wind farms to electric car charging stations. The state already gets almost 25 percent of its power from renewables, mostly from hydropower dams. Critics say that next 25 percent is the big lift.

Cheap natural gas has driven down power prices so much, says Gavin Donohue of the Independent Power Producers of New York, that existing renewables like wind, hydro and biomass need more state help to stay in business.

GAVIN DONOHUE: What's guiding all of our policy development here in New York is not cost, not efficiencies, not reliability but what gets us to some magical CO2 number to show that we're a national leader.

SOMMERSTEIN: Another complication could be Cuomo's announcement to shut down Indian Point Nuclear Plant near New York City. But the state says it plans to replace that with another kind of carbon-free power. For NPR News, I'm David Sommerstein in Canton, N.Y.

AMY SISK, BYLINE: I'm Amy Sisk with Prairie Public Broadcasting in North Dakota, where coal produces three quarters of the state's electricity. Every day, thousands of tons of lignite coal are dumped onto trucks and carried to nearby power plants. But the Clean Power Plan would have required North Dakota to cut its carbon emissions more than almost any other state - 45 percent. Here's Randy Christmann with the North Dakota Public Service Commission.

RANDY CHRISTMANN: North Dakota had to be two-thirds of that way by 2022. That's only a few years away, and there's no way we were getting there.

SISK: North Dakota would likely have had to add hundreds of wind turbines and shut down coal mines and plants. Jason Bohrer with North Dakota's lignite coal trade group says it's great the Clean Power Plan is likely gone under Trump, but...

JASON BOHRER: Donald Trump is not the cure-all for the coal industry. This doesn't fix everything. It just gives us the opportunity to provide solutions.

SISK: He says Americans are demanding cleaner energy. Cheap wind power has grown into North Dakota's second-biggest electricity source. So even though the pressure's off to curb emissions, the state's looking to clean up coal as a way to save jobs.

The state and coal industry have sunk millions since developing a coal plant that reuses the carbon dioxide it creates. That would mean zero emissions. If it works, Dave Glatt with the state health department thinks this could bring the state close to that ambitious 45 percent reduction targets.

DAVE GLATT: We may not hit it necessarily on the exact timelines that the Clean Power Plan was looking at, but I do think that that's something that we should look at. Can we achieve that or even go beyond that?

SISK: This year, North Dakota will craft its own plan hoping coal and renewables can co-exist. For NPR News, I'm Amy Sisk in Bismarck.

SHAPIRO: And Amy Sisk comes to us from Inside Energy, a public media collaboration focused on America's energy issues.

NPR's Jennifer Ludden is still here in the studio. And Jennifer, it sounds like because of state initiatives and market forces, the U.S. might actually be able to make its Paris climate commitment even if the Trump administration doesn't push the country in that direction.

LUDDEN: Well, you know, it's hard to say. I mean some of these market forces might take a really long time to play out. But you know, Obama's Clean Power Plan is actually an easy lift, and there are a lot of states who are close to meeting their goals.

SHAPIRO: Now, I was at the Paris climate summit, and I remember everybody there saying the commitments countries made in Paris were not enough. So where do we go from there?

LUDDEN: That's right. That is the big question. The U.S. and other countries would have to do a lot more to keep emissions below the point where scientists say they will have disastrous consequences. And so far, we have not heard anything to suggest that the Trump administration plans to make that extra push.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Jennifer Ludden, thanks.

LUDDEN: Thank you.

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