Battle Lines Forming Over Clean Power Plan

Attorney General Mark R. Herring
Attorney General Mark R. Herring

The partisan battle lines are forming over the implementation of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which calls for Virginia to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from state power plants 32% by 2030.

Attorney General Mark R. Herring, a Democrat, announced two weeks ago that Virginia will join a coalition of 17 other states supporting the Obama administration against a lawsuit filed by 24 other states. Foes of the plan argue that the EPA far exceeded its legislative authority in regulating CO2, and observers say the case could well reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

Del. Israel O'Quinn, R-Washington.
Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Washington.

Meanwhile, Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Washington, has introduced a bill that would require the General Assembly to approve and oversee implementation of the plan in Virginia. While the Clean Power Plan mandates CO2-reduction targets for each state, it allows each state to figure out how to achieve the goals.

Herring justified his support for the plan on the grounds that climate change “is a real and urgent threat to the health and safety of Virginians, our environment, and our economic success as a Commonwealth.” By way of specifics, he cited the threat of sea-level rise in Hampton Roads that could displace residents and businesses and threaten Naval Station Norfolk, and the prospect of extreme weather, droughts and floods. said Herring: “It’s long past time to acknowledge these realities and take decisive action.”

O’Quinn’s bill would require the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to work in conjunction with the State Corporation Commission (SCC) to prepare a report assessing the plan’s effect on the Virginia’s electric power sector, electric customers, jobs, economic development, economic competitiveness,  and state and local government.

The report also would identify new state laws that might be needed to implement the plan, study whether to rely upon EPA measures for calculating the CO2 reduction goal, and report on whether the Commonwealth should invest in energy efficiency programs, promote non-emitting nuclear power or participate in multistate programs. The report also would advanced recommendations on how best to avoid stranded investments in power plants that would be shuttered before they were fully paid off.

Getting answers to those questions is probably a good idea — the more information, the better — but sure to be controversial is the final item in the bill: “DEQ shall not submit to the EPA any state plan until both the Senate and the House of Delegates have adopted resolutions that approve the state plan in accordance with this act.”

It is safe to predict that the McAuliffe administration will not respond favorably to the idea of requiring the Republican-dominated General Assembly to approve the plan. Separation-of-power issues are potentially at stake here as well as ideological differences over climate change. Look for this to become a hot topic in the 2016 session.


Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


8 responses to “Battle Lines Forming Over Clean Power Plan”

  1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    I would hope we could agree that there are both political and non-political aspects to both Herring’s and O’Quinn’s actions. Herring is likely within the boundaries of his statutory authority to participate in a lawsuit supporting the EPA. And certainly, the Delegate can introduce and the General Assembly approve a change to regulatory law. Note that a regulatory agency is a creature of the legislature and not the executive branch, according to countless court decisions. And one of the best explanations I ever heard (several times) came from then Representative and now Senator Ed Markey (D. Mass.) about the FCC.

    1. Just to be clear, TMT you are saying the Va. DEQ in effect reports to the Va. General Assembly and not to the Gov’s office?

      One thing that is hard about the CPP is – tight deadline for plans of course – but that EPA has thrust the burden onto the states themselves to comply. In other words, the state just got a huge new energy management job, so the first thing we have to do is sort out who is in charge and how we will work on it.

      The concern would be if we cannot work it out, then the EPA takes over and imposes their own plan on us. That in itself is an incentive for lack of cooperation for some.

  2. If I’m not mistaken, Del. O’Quinn had a very similar bill in the 2015 Session that got tabled.

    1. I didn’t know that.

      I suspect things will be different this time. The House Speaker’s office highlighted the bill as part of a legislative package that the Republicans will be pushing in 2016.

      Said Speaker Bill Howell: “These are the first pieces of what I expect to be a broad, bold agenda to govern and lead our Commonwealth. Over the next several weeks, our members will continue to introduce and roll out our policy priorities for the 2016 session. Like the bills filed today, our goal will be to address the challenges that Virginians confront every day, whether it is traffic congestion, rising energy bills, fewer educational opportunities or a still stagnant job market.”

  3. I am a relative newcomer to Virginia politics. But I am concerned that partisan power grabs over who controls the process will overshadow an objective discussion of the various methods of achieving compliance with the plan. The more it becomes a political football, the more likely the outcome will be left to those who control the levers of the state legislature, rather than an evaluation of which approach is in the best long-term interest of the state economy.

    1. Can we assume that the GA will also reflect Dominion’s interests more than the VSCC and VDEQ? Why else do you suppose O’Quinn wants explicit GA approval up front rather than delegating the mess to an agency that could be overridden later if the agencies’ solutions aren’t palatable?

    2. LarrytheG Avatar

      re: partisan power grabs.

      Remember back to the original Clean Water Act, to regulations on things like Dioxin and lead in gasoline, Cigarettes, EPA auto mileage standards – and long before that – to Food and Drug regulations…. themselves

      there were contentious disagreements and back and forths and ultimately some level of compromise reached.

      I do not remember those issues become cast as partisan power grabs.

      and yes – we did manage to find some level of agreement instead of what we are seeing now… which is destructive and erosive to just solving problems.. and moving on to the next issues to be dealt with.

      Now days – it’s one partisan battle after another with two notable differences:

      1. – NO attempt to find common ground, compromise , agreement
      2. – NO alternatives proposed by the opponents

      just out and out total rejection – kill it and move on to the next thing to kill.

      Acbar asks about the GA – yes.. the GA is GOP now and what is the approach to the CPP ? It’s the same approach to MedicAid or the Chesapeake Bay Cleanup or immigration – no compromises and no alternatives – just gridlock.

  4. The truth be known, I personally do not like traditional coal fired power plants and I would favor Virginia moving to other energy sources (including clean coal). However, I have been a critic of the Clean Power Plan because I am trying to look at it from the view of protecting Virginia’s interests, and making sure EPA treated us fairly with their questionable models and calculations. If we instead ignore Virginia’s needs, and assign highest priority to partisan political beliefs, then Virginia’s interests fall into the cracks.

Leave a Reply