PSEG Joins Battle Against Repeal of Obama-Era Curb on Power Plant Pollution

Tom Johnson | September 18, 2019 | Energy & Environment
Nine of the largest power companies in the country, including PSEG, have filed suit to stop a rollback of a rule that would limit emissions from power plants

Credit: Twenty20
Power plant pollution
A coalition of some of the nation’s largest power companies, including Public Service Enterprise Group, are challenging the Trump administration’s repeal of an Obama-era rule to limit global warming pollution from power plants.

In a lawsuit quietly filed with the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this month, the nine companies argued a new rule put in place by the Environmental Protection Agency will result in fewer reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions and higher costs to industry and consumers.

The action by the administration earlier this summer already has triggered similar lawsuits by New Jersey and 21 other states which argued the new program, dubbed the Affordable Clean Energy Rule, would allow coal units to operate indefinitely into the future without installing controls to reduce pollution that contributes to climate change.

The Obama initiative, considered one of that administration’s signature environmental achievements to combat climate change, encouraged power suppliers to switch to cleaner sources of power, like renewable energy, as many companies have. Some coalition members, including PSEG and Exelon, also rely on nuclear power, which does not contribute carbon pollution to the environment.

PSEG has invested hundreds of millions of dollars

PSEG, the owner of Public Service Electric & Gas, the largest gas and electric utility in New Jersey, has embraced those clean-energy policies, investing hundreds of millions of dollars in solar energy and energy efficiency.

“The members of the coalition are committed to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases by increasing their reliance upon renewable and other zero-emitting resources to meet customer demand and to improve the reliability and resiliency of the electric grid,’’ the coalition said in a statement.

The coalition argued EPA failed to acknowledge the ways in which they and others in the power sector have already reduced their carbon emissions, a failure that led them to challenge the decision and now seek to have it overturned.

“With the necessary advances in technology and public policy, we have a vision of achieving net-zero carbon emissions for our fleet by 2050,’’ said PSEG in another statement.

Besides PSEG, the coalition includes Exelon and Con Edison, the parent company of two of the other three electric utilities in New Jersey, Atlantic City Electric and Rockland Electric. Other members of the coalition are the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, National Grid, New York Power Authority, Pacific Gas and Electric, Sacramento Municipal Utility District and Seattle City Light.

“It doesn’t surprise me,’’ said Paul Patterson, an energy analyst with Glenrock Associates in New York, referring to the lawsuit. Some companies in the sector have embraced policies to facilitate the transition to clean energy, making huge investments in solar and other renewable energy technologies.

Other EPA efforts to weaken standards

“You’ve got a change in policy that a certain segment of the sector has been trying to comply with,’’ Patterson said, referring to efforts to comply with the Obama rule.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said the latest change will undermine efforts by some companies to convert to cleaner fuels. “It just means more pollution and higher costs,’’ he said.

The challenge by a portion of the industry mirrors what is happening with another move by EPA to weaken Obama administration fuel-economy standards for light-duty vehicles despite protests from some automakers.

In response, four auto manufacturers have sided with California, agreeing to adopt that state’s more stringent emission standards. According to multiple news reports, the Trump administration is expected today to revoke a waiver that allows California, and 13 other states, including New Jersey, to follow the former’s more stringent standards.

That action is likely to wind up before the courts, too. Besides fighting the Trump repeal of the power plant rule, New Jersey has challenged efforts to weaken fuel efficiency standards for vehicles, to prevent the federal government to do seismic testing in the Atlantic Ocean for drilling, and successfully blocked a proposal to allow more super-polluting trucks on highways.