Things are heating up over the future of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s rules to clamp down on the kinds of dirty coal-fired power plants that provide up to 40 percent of Idaho’s electricity, so it was great news to learn Friday that the city of Boise and Mayor David Bieter are among the more than 50 city and county governments from 28 states defending EPA and its Clean Air Act rule against the withering collection of coal companies, utilities, and others still defending coal power.
EPA and other parties in the complex federal litigation over EPA’s important Clean Power Plan filed legal documents over the past week as the federal case moves forward. Mayor Bieter and the city of Boise should be saluted for standing up for a clean environment over the dirty, coal-powered electricity provided to most Idahoans by their electric utilities.
“It’s well known that the best way to affect true change in policy is at the local level,” Bieter wrote. “There are many policies one can pursue to impact climate change, but the first order of business is being mindful about your organization’s footprint and being thoughtful in how to reduce it. Being more sustainable is something local policy makers all over the globe can work toward, just as we do every day at the City of Boise. That is why we support the Clean Power Plan.”
Not only is Boise showing leadership in getting with the program to reduce coal-related greenhouse gas emissions, the state of Idaho, to its credit, has decided to write an Idaho-specific plan to meet its EPA mandates to reduce power plant greenhouse gas emissions. Our state is still wrestling with how to comply with the EPA coal plant rule, which despite being delayed by the U.S. Supreme Court nonetheless remains intact.
EPA’s Clean Power Plan, developed under the 1970 federal Clean Air Act, sets rigorous state-specific greenhouse gas reduction goals from existing coal power plants. Idaho has no utility-scale coal plants, so it is most affected by virtue of two large natural gas generating plants near New Plymouth in the south and Rathdrum in the north. Still, Idaho electric utilities and their customers rely on generation from out of state coal plants for 40 percent or more of our electricity, making coal roughly the same as hydropower in Idaho’s overall electricity mix. And that means that even if we don’t have coal plants within our borders, we are not immune from pollution reduction requirements on plants outside our borders.
Several states, utilities, and coal-related industries sued EPA to block the Clean Power Plan. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit rejected their bid to halt implementation of the plan, opting instead for an expedited review of legal arguments for and against it. The same states and coal companies then moved on to the Supreme Court and asked that it put the rule on hold pending review by the lower court, and that’s what the high court did. It should be noted, too, that many states and other interests, including the health care, scientific, and clean business communities, are fighting just as hard as the critics to defend the Clean Power Plan.
The importance of Mayor Bieter and other influential U.S. mayors weighing in on the CPP is to demonstrate, as Boise’s mayor said, “True change in policy is at the local level.” Just as important, however, is that that even if the nation’s Big Coal interests and coal-reliant utilities try to defend the largest single stationary source of climate changing greenhouse gas emissions, the legacy of those emissions are felt at the most local levels and often by our most vulnerable populations.
“This amicus brief shows how cities across America are leading the way in the fight against climate change – and how eager they are for state governments to join them,” said former three-term New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is among the nation’s leaders in fighting coal generation. “Mayors are responsible for people’s health and safety, and with their cities already feeling the effects of climate change, they can’t afford to let ideological battles slow the great work they’re doing to clean the air, strengthen local economies, and protect people from risks.”