For Some States, New Emissions Rules Will Force A Power Shift The federal rules will deal a big blow to some energy sectors — especially coal. The change won't be so hard for states that have moved to cut emissions. But for others it will be more difficult.
NPR logo

For Some States, New Emissions Rules Will Force A Power Shift

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/429386020/429386021" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
For Some States, New Emissions Rules Will Force A Power Shift

For Some States, New Emissions Rules Will Force A Power Shift

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/429386020/429386021" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Almost as soon as it was unveiled, opponents were lining up to oppose President Obama's plan to limit carbon emissions. The new rules would've required states to lower their omissions by nearly a third over the next decade-and-a-half. The rules will deal a big blow to some energy sectors, especially coal. But as NPR's Jim Zarroli reports, there are also industries that will benefit from the plan.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Right now, states are largely free to meet their electric power needs as they see fit, and Dan Kammen, professor of energy at Berkeley, says they tend to do it in lots of different ways.

DAN KAMMEN: We have places that are almost entirely coal, like Wyoming. We have places like Vermont and California that are almost entirely hydropower, gas and renewables. And so it's very diverse.

ZARROLI: The rules introduced by President Obama yesterday would still allow states to generate power in their own way as long as they reduce carbon emissions by 32 percent from their 2005 levels over the next decade-and-a-half. That won't be so hard for some states because they're already pretty far along on reducing emissions, but for others, it will be more difficult. Daniel Simmons is vice president of the American Energy Alliance. He says states that rely heavily on coal will have to make especially big changes in the way they generate power.

DANIEL SIMMONS: The way that you achieve the biggest reductions in carbon dioxide emissions is to not use coal and to shift to other fuels. So coal will be the hardest hit.

ZARROLI: The coal industry is already hurting in part because of the nation's big switch to natural gas. And there's been a run of coal company bankruptcies. The new rules could accelerate that. Even as states are forced to pivot away from coal, they will face incentives to use cleaner energy sources such as wind and solar as well as natural gas and even nuclear power. And renewable energy companies will benefit. Simmons says states will actually have an easier time complying with the new laws if growth slows down.

SIMMONS: If the economy is going very well, it makes it very much more difficult because demand continues to increase.

ZARROLI: He says one of the big reasons that carbon emissions have fallen since 2007 is that the U.S. economy went into a major recession. Whatever the outcome of the regulations, they are certain to be challenged legally. Michael Wara, associate professor of law at Stanford University, says a lot of states will probably line up to contest the rules in court. But he also notes that a lot of others will support them.

MICHAEL WARA: There are a lot of states that have state climate policies that face higher electricity costs in part because of that and want to see a more level playing field.

ZARROLI: Whether the new regulations will survive the court challenges is an open question. Wara says the administration is invoking part of the Clean Air Act that allows it to regulate air pollution. But he says critics are likely to challenge the use of that law as overly broad, and it's not clear how the courts will decide.

WARA: I'll tell you. The Supreme Court has sent a series of mixed signals with respect to how they feel about the greenhouse gas regulations that the Obama administration has rolled out over the past few years. And at this point, I think it is uncertain.

ZARROLI: But Dan Kammen of Berkeley believes that over time, opposition to the regulations will probably dissipate. He says with a very low price of natural gas and the economic incentives provided by the administration to develop renewable fuels, states have a lot to gain from the new rules.

KAMMEN: So I would expect there will be some high-profile cases that emerge, but I think that they're likely to fade.

ZARROLI: Kammen says the environmental goals will ultimately align with economic trends. If that happens, however, it will take a while. And in the meantime, the regulations will require sweeping changes in the way some states generate power and in the industries they rely on to do so. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.