Coal, Carbon, and Controversy: Pushback Against the Clean Power Plan in Ohio

President Barack Obama unveiled the Clean Power Plan (CPP) on August 3, 2015. The program, drafted collaboratively between the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), enforces significant limits on carbon emissions from active power plants. In achieving this goal, the program set new standards for compliance of individual power plants, while mandating that states work together to collectively decrease emissions by 32% in 2030. The 32% net decrease is based off of total carbon dioxide emissions across the U.S. from 2005 (Vaughan 2015). In January 2005, the Coal Electric Power Sector accounted for 131.378 million metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution. Natural gas, petroleum, geothermal, and non-biomass waste, by comparison, only accounted for 42.013 million metric tons of waste (“U.S. Energy…” 2005). As we can see, reducing emissions from coal plants is a timely challenge that is vitally important. However, despite the good the CPP does in curbing global climate change, Ohio – in conjunction with 23 other states – has joined the fight against the federal mandate. Ultimately, the resistance (and litigation) against the Clean Power Plan reflects private interests’ overwhelming influence within states dependent on non-renewable resources. As we will see, in the battle against the CPP, economic motivators trump environmental sensibilities.

Private organizations, such as the Murray Energy Corporation, act rationally (that is to say, as realists) in order to protect business. Under the guise of maintaining job security for blue-collar workers, coal companies have strong-armed Ohio Republicans into protecting not careers, but long-term profits. Similarly, Ohio Republicans are beholden to lobbying efforts by energy corporations. Money and support are essential in securing reelection (Kowalski 2016). Thus, Ohio Republicans – and some Democrats – turn a blind eye to the future and instead look to their own coffers.

Moreover, the fight over clean air regulations should be viewed from an institutional framework, which best implies and highlights the economic factors that motivate private interests to lean on the courts. States, especially Ohio, are using both the federal court system – moving from the D.C. Circuit, the U.S. Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court – and the Ohio Statehouse. Although the court battles rage on, the Ohio Senate has already taken action to restrict energy standards (Kowalski 2015). Passed in September of 2014, Ohio Senate Bill 310 effectively froze Ohio’s energy efficiency standards and energy requirements (Ohio Senate Bill 310, 2014). As discussed, statewide efforts demonstrate how an institutional framework can intermix with rational actor (or realist) theory. The American Legislative Exchange Company (ALEC) has also lobbied against renewable energy standards. As many Ohio Republicans are members of ALEC, their influence is both more transparent and more troublesome (Kowalski 2015). Because discourse centers on the EPA’s authority to regulate power plants, history and precedent are important to grasp.

Previously, the Clean Air Act (CAA), signed into law in 1963 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, gave the U.S. Public Health Service authority to research and, such that they could, “control” air pollution. With the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, the enforcement of the Clean Air Act fell under their purview – becoming a staple of the new agency’s agenda (EPA, “The Plain English Guide…” 2007). As concerns over global climate change have escalated, the EPA sought to enforce the CAA more sweepingly and with better authority. The EPA faced significant opposition in implementing the CAA. States are fighting even harder to defeat President Obama’s CPP.

After initially struggling to secure a series of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, Ohio, West Virginia, and 22 other states sought remedy through State of West Virginia, et al. v. EPA. Private groups, such as Ohio’s Murray Energy Corporation, filed similar writs in the U.S. Court of Appeals, debating the EPA’s authority to “double” regulate coal-fired power plants (Murray Energy Corp. v. U.S. EPA 2014). Eventually the cases were folded together and are still being debated as part of a joint effort with the West Virginia’s Office of Attorney General.

Ohio, at the behest of the Sierra Club and other pro-environmental groups, should immediately withdraw its freeze on energy requirements and its legal challenge (Sierra Club 2016). Part of the Clean Power Plan includes funding for job training for those individuals displaced by coal companies. Furthermore, the potential cost of cutting coal production is offset by new energy initiatives (Kowalski 2016). In Ohio, money and time should be appropriately funneled into conserving state resources and promoting green energy, rather than preserving outdated businesses and dangerous technology.

Matthew L. Landini – U.S. Environmental Politics – Professor Graham Bullock

On my honor I have neither given nor received unauthorized information regarding this work, I have followed and will continue to observe all regulations regarding it, and I am unaware of any violation of the Honor Code by others.


Matthew L. Landini



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