The Clean Air Catch 22

The “clean air” initiative of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is called the “Clean Power Plan” (CPP). It is an initiative to reduce carbon emissions and would go into effect in 2022. “The final version of the rule would reduce national electricity sector emissions by an estimated 32 % below 2005 levels by 2030.” (

The article sited above is entitled, “The Clean Power Plan: A Climate Game Changer.” The CPP would be a real “game changer” for the energy industry and the economy, while the impact on the climate remains uncertain. The CPP puts into place a “cap and trade” penalty system for carbon emissions. That means states which exceed the mandates, are given a “credit” that can then be “purchased” by states that fail to meet the established standards. So, overall emissions may actually not be reduced, but costs of providing energy go up due to the fines.

Because of this, Growth Areas and Emissionsseveral states have sued to ask the Supreme Court to determine the authority of the EPA to impose these standards. In February the Supreme Court issued a “stay” in the requirement of states to pursue the planning phase until they make a decision.

There are several facts and factors that feed into this situation. Regardless of what policy makers may contend, it remains a “political” issue as much as a “scientific” issue. Consider that carbon emissions since 1980 are up by 17%. This increase has taken place while GPD has increased 147%, vehicle miles traveled has increased 97%, population has increased 41%, and energy consumption has increased 26%. In addition six common pollutants have decreased 63%.  (see graphic)

So, the question is this: “In light of these facts and trends, is a radical “cap and trade” approach to address carbon emissions, which are already lower than 2005, the best approach?”

Also out of sixteen western regions, eight already meet 2030 emission goals and of the eight out of compliance, four have the greatest discrepancy between 2030 goals and 2012 emissions.

According the Center for the New Energy Economy, there are three building blocks to achieve emissions reductions.

  • Improve operational efficiency of current steam units.
  • Shift generation from steam plants to existing Natural Gas Combined Cycle (NGCC) units.
  • Shift generation to renewable energy.

In light of this, we still find ballot initiatives and legislation that seek to ban natural gas production or drive up the regulatory and risk cost so high that the scientific, practical and economic “stepping stone” to reducing emissions and meeting CPP goals is sabotaged. This creates the “clean air catch 22.” You need natural gas to reduce emissions, but radical groups want to take that strategy off the table.

The argument from some of these groups is that we can “just rely on renewable energy sources.” This approach is, “Let’s skip Step #2 and go directly to Step #3.” However, the science and the economics don’t make what is the long-term option viable in the short-term. Cooking a piece of meat that is to be cooked at 200 degrees for four hours is not the same as cooking it at 400 degrees for two hours. It just doesn’t work! Some environmentalist can be commended for their enthusiasm and dedication, but they come up short on the reality of science and economics.

Former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter is the founder and director of the “Center for the New Energy Economy” at CSU in Fort Collins. He is a strong proponent of renewable energy and committed to confront, “global warming.” However, I appreciate the fact he recognizes the role of natural gas to meet CPP goals and that what takes place has to be economically viable.

Clean air and a healthy environment are important to all citizens. As attention is given to the best policies and approaches for the future, it must be recognized that there remain more questions than answers about climate change, the extent of the impact of man-made emissions, how to make a difference and the impact of those actions. It is important to be patient with the progress that has been made and is being made as well as the evolution of science that will change the “energy mix” in the future.


(Note: Statistics in this article is from the “Clean Power Plan Presentation” by the “Center for the New Energy Economy” CSU, September 30, 2015)