The State of Indiana last week joined 10 other states and the Commonwealth of Kentucky in a lawsuit challenging the legality of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's new Clean Power Plan, which aims to achieve targeted reductions in carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.
"The EPA's recent action regulating carbon dioxide emissions shows a complete disregard for the rule of law and will harm Indiana ratepayers," Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said Friday in a news release announcing the state's action. "Congress has already rejected legislation that would put limits on carbon dioxide emissions, and a law of this significance should be passed by the legislative branch. The State of Indiana is determined to use every legal means at our disposal to prevent the EPA from overstepping its authority and costing Hoosier jobs."
The announcement from the governor's office made no mention of climate change or of the U.S. Supreme Court's 2007 determination that green house gases such as carbon dioxide are air pollutants subject to control under the Clean Air Act. Even though the Supreme Court's 2007 decision compels the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases, the agency has yet to finalize its approach.
Indiana and its cohorts in the suit argue that the Clean Power Plan improperly regulates carbon pollution, citing a U.S. Supreme Court finding that the EPA may not use Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act "if existing stationary sources of the pollutant in question are regulated under ... [Section 112]."
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller and the rest of his AG peers involved in this suit ate "grasping at straws," wrote David Doniger, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Climate and Clean Air Program, in a column detailing "at least three fatal defects" he sees in the lawsuit "that will cause the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to dismiss it in the judicial equivalent of a heartbeat."
Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of carbon emissions in the country, according to the EPA. The agency ranks Indiana 5th in terms of total carbon dioxide emissions, releasing an estimated 92 million metric tons into the atmosphere in 2012. According to the EPA, Indiana ranked 15th highest in the nation in terms of pounds of carbon dioxide released per megawatt hour of energy produced in 2012. The EPA is proposing that the state develop a plan to drop its pounds/megawatt hour ratio from 1,923 to 1,531, a 20 percent reduction. The Clean Energy Plan does not require each plant to drop its emissions by 20 percent, it asks the state to devise a holistic strategy to achieve the target. Working with other states, establishing renewable energy standards and market-based trading programs, expanding renewables and expanded use of natural gas are all included in the list of suggested options that the state may wish to pursue.
The EPA's proposal is far from radical, according to an email from Citizens Action Coalition Executive Director Kerwin Olson.
"The Obama Administration has put forth an incredibly modest and flexible proposal that provides a menu of cost-effective options for States to choose from in order to comply," Olson wrote. "In fact, CAC believes it is too weak and doesn't go far enough. The objections being raised to the proposed rule are purely political in nature and are not based on economics, science, or technology. It is most unfortunate that our Governor has placed partisan politics above doing the right thing for our economy, our environment, our health, and most importantly, our survival as a species."
Even as Indiana's executive branch actively works to undermine efforts to curb carbon emissions, evidence continues to mount that increased greenhouse gas emissions are driving a widespread array of harmful effects.
For coastal states, sea level rise and more intense hurricane seasons represent the most obvious threats, but other associated issues are receiving attention as well. Oregon oyster operations have seen ocean acidification wreck havoc on oyster larvae. (Acidification happens as the ocean absorbs atmospheric carbon.) Here's the lead from an Aug. 3 New York Times story: "Billions of baby oysters in the Pacific inlets here are dying and Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington is busy spreading the bad news."
It's not new news. In July 2012, an article in Science reported "... excess CO2 the seawater’s acidity to spike and reduces the amount of carbonate ions that oyster larvae use to build their shells. The change can kill oyster larvae instantly or stunt their growth."
Despite its Midwestern location, Indiana is not immune from climate change impacts, according to Risky Business, a report released this summer aiming to quantify and publicize the projected effects of climate change on national, regional and state levels. Michael Bloomberg and Robert Rubin, co-chair on the Council on Foreign Relations and a former U.S. Treasury Secretary, are among the central figures involved in the project.
"We do not face a choice between protecting our environment or protecting our economy," Robert Rubin wrote in a July 24 Washington Post column. "We face a choice between protecting our economy by protecting our environment — or allowing environmental havoc to create economic havoc."
Agricultural leaders are also sounding the alarm.
Consider recent comments published in the June 24 issue of the Wall Street Journal from Gregory Page, executive chairman of Cargill Inc. (the nation's largest privately held company), that it would be "too arrogant" to ignore the threats posed by climate change.
Page is also involved in the Risky Business project.
Cargill does not take an official position on the issue, nevertheless, its leaders keep in mind how climate change effects might affect their operations, Page told the Journal. Like, for instance, when hog buildings are retooled.
“We think about whether we’re designing a house for the weather today, or a house that might be highly efficient and effective at a more volatile temperature and humidity level,” Page said.
Among the Risky Business highlights that attracted the Journal's attention: a possible 10 percent drop in crop yields over the next five to 25 years due to floods and droughts and a 3-5 percent drop in livestock production.
These challenges may seem tame, though, when one considers this Risky Business tidbit on the Midwest issues:
"[The real story in this region is the combined impact of heat and humidity, which we measure using the Humid Heat Stroke Index, or HHSI. ... Our research shows that if we continue on our current path, the average Midwesterner could see an HHSI at the dangerous level of 95 degrees F two days every year by late century, and that by the middle of the next century, she or he can expect to experience 20 full days in a typical year of HHSI over 95 degrees F, during which it will be functionally impossible to be outdoors."