Declaring “the war against coal is over,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced Monday a rollback of the Clean Power Plan, the Obama-era rules that set national limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants.
“This announcement is very unfortunate and we’re deeply saddened by it,” said Jessica Collingsworth, a Midwest energy policy analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Collingsworth also said the Clean Power Plan — which was finalized in 2015, put on hold by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016, and had yet to be implemented — would have provided public health and economic benefits across the U.S., according to an EPA analysis in 2015.
“Thankfully, Illinois is already well-positioned to reduce carbon emissions with or without the Clean Power Plan,” Collingsworth said Tuesday on Morning Shift. “Market trends are continuing to drive a historic transition away from coal-fired plants that is unlikely to change just because the CPP is no longer around.”
In a conversation with Morning Shift host Tony Sarabia, Collingsworth described what the rollback of the Clean Power Plan might mean for Illinois and the Chicago region.
On how the rollback of the Clean Power Plan could affect Illinois
Jessica Collingsworth: As I said, this announcement is very unfortunate and we’re deeply saddened by it. But thankfully, Illinois is already well-positioned to reduce carbon emissions with or without the Clean Power Plan. Market trends are continuing to drive a historic transition away from coal-fired plants that is unlikely to change just because the CPP is no longer around.
This is due to Illinois’ Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA) that passed back in December 2016. Under FEJA, there’s going to be built a minimum of 3,000 megawatts of new solar power and 1,300 megawatts of new wind power — all to be built in the state by 2030. It also creates the state’s first community solar program. It also creates Illinois Solar For All, which is a job-training and development program.
So there’s a lot of great stuff under FEJA. And the Natural Resource Defense Council did an analysis of it and found that the law will reduce annual carbon pollution by up to 32 million tons in 2030.
Tony Sarabia: But at the same time, Gov. Rauner recently announced a proposal to loosen restrictions on coal power plants. Why would the governor do that when Illinois has these other plans?
Collingsworth: In my personal opinion, I think this comes from when FEJA was being discussed and became law back in December 2016. The Dynegy electric company was at the table trying to negotiate some sort of subsidy for their coal plants in downstate Illinois. So I think this is a reoccurring thing that they’re continuing to seek some sort of bailout to keep these plants running.
We’re tracking that very closely.
On a ‘dwindling role for coal’
Collingsworth: I think the markets are what’s closing coal plants. It’s not an attack on coal, which it has been framed as. It’s just, economically, they’re not feasible to run them anymore, and it makes sense to move to cleaner energy sources that are cheaper.
“A Dwindling Role For Coal” just came out today, you can find it on our website. Over the last decade, we’ve seen a lot of change; the U.S. electricity sector has undergone a historic transition away from coal to cheaper, cleaner energy sources.
In 2008, coal represented about 51 percent of our nation’s electricity supply. By 2016, that share has fallen to 31 percent. So this new study finds that the rapid transition away from coal in the U.S. electricity sector is likely to continue. Of more than 700 coal-fired units operating in the U.S. in 2016, 163 have announced plans to cease using coal by 2030.
Tony Sarabia: What’s the picture like in Illinois?
Collingsworth: So I think that’s continuing in Illinois. You’re seeing, especially with the passage of FEJA, there’s a lot more clean energy that’s going to be deployed and implemented in the state. There’s going to be continued pressure on the coal plants in Illinois, and they’re just not going to be able to compete in the market.
On what’s next for coal miners
Sarabia: I would imagine it’s still a hard sell for someone who is making a good amount of money in the coal business and all the sudden they will either make less, or have to spend a year or two in training.
Collingsworth: Yeah, I agree. But the writing’s on the wall. These coal plants are going to close and we need to have a plan in place that is just and right to get these workers working in the clean energy sector.
And I would also like to note that the clean energy sector is here. The jobs are here already in the Midwest. Clean Jobs Midwest recently did a survey of clean energy employment in 12 Midwestern states and they found that there’s close to 600,000 workers working in sectors including renewable energy generation, advanced grid, energy efficiency, clean fuels and advanced transportation.
On Chicago’s future climate plans
Collingsworth: The city does have a climate action plan. They announced recently that they’re going to host the Climate Summit in Chicago. This is going to be mayors from around the world who will assemble in the city to develop strategies for combating climate change at the inaugural Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy’s North American Climate Summit. So that’s a big step. These are mayors that are committed to upholding the Paris Climate Agreement and working to fight carbon emissions and have a cleaner environment.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire conversation, which was adapted to the web by producer Justin Bull.