Cities battle states over the Clean Power Plan

New York City subway station closed following Superstorm Sandy, October 29, 2012.
ShutterstockKobby Dagan
New York City subway station closed following Superstorm Sandy, October 29, 2012.

For seven cities in Florida, the costs of protecting against rising sea levels and repeated flooding has become overwhelmingly burdensome and, they say, a reason to support the Clean Power Plan.

However, Florida’s state government is among 27 states fighting the plan in court.

Such is the state of climate politics in the U.S. and the fluid status of the proposed rule that was the centerpiece of the U.S. commitment to the United Nations COP21 climate talks in Paris last December.

“Faced with flooding propelled by rising sea levels, Miami Beach is investing $400 million in an adaptation strategy that includes pumping stations, raised roads, and seawalls. Rising seas likewise put Miami at risk for losing insurability, and threaten drinking water supplies across southeast Florida,” the cities state in a brief (PDF) filed in U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to describe how cities grapple with climate change.

Miami Beach, the city of Miami, Coral Gables, Cutler Bay, Pinecrest, West Palm Beach and Orlando are among 54 cities that joined the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National League of Cities in submitting an Amici Curiae ("friends of the court") brief in support of the Clean Power Plan.

Twenty-seven states, on the other hand, are the plaintiffs in the State of West Virginia, et al, v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, challenging the EPA's proposed Clean Power Plan which aims to reduce carbon emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 by requiring each state to develop and implement a plan for doing so.

The Obama administration used this rule as the basis of the U.S. commitment towards the Paris Accord.

But while the states filed their suit months before the Paris talks, the suit gained impact once the U.S. Supreme Court backed the states' subsequent request (PDF) for a stay on enforcement of the plan until all litigation could be heard.  

That is where things stand. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is scheduled to begin proceedings on the litigation June 2. On Friday, the last day that dockets could be submitted in the case, a slew of Amici Curiae briefs were submitted siding with the EPA.

In addition to one from the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National League of Cities and 54 local governments, two were filed by businesses — a "Tech Amici" brief from Google, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon. A second one followed from Mars, Ikea North America, Adobe Systems and Blue Shield Blue Cross of Massachusetts. 

Yet another Amici Curiae was filed by 200 current and former members of Congress. 

U.S. cities' plight amid climate change

The cities’ filing swells with descriptions of surging seas threatening infrastructure, heat waves causing fatalities and other dire circumstances.

After describing the Florida flooding, the brief stated: “On top of this grinding, expensive nuisance looms the enormous threat of destructive storm surges like those that accompanied Hurricanes Ike, Isabel, Katrina, Rita, and Sandy. These events did billions of dollars of damage to Baltimore, Hoboken, Jersey City, Houston, and dozens of other coastal communities."

And then there's the bottom line: "On our current emissions trajectory, the annual cost of coastal storm damage is expected to climb from $3 billion to as high as $35 billion by the 2030s; coastal property valued at $66 [billion] to $106 billion is expected to be underwater by 2050." 

The cities estimate that 80 percent of the current U.S. population live in or around cities: "The acute relevance of anthropogenic climate change to cities’ responsibilities has focused Local Government Coalition members’ attention on the dangers of failing to mitigate climate change, as well as on the pressing need to adapt to it."

The document acknowledges the irony that 25 of the cities included are arguing the opposite position of what their state governments argue in their complaint to the court.

The states argue that the EPA is reaching beyond its authority (PDF) in the Clean Power Plan by requiring states to alter the energy mix or emissions from their electric utilities — and that the requirements of the rule would harm state economies harm and raise electricity prices. 

The businesses filing Amici Cureia came to a different conclusion, stating that by encouraging renewable energy, the Clean Power Plan helps them secure energy that has less price volatility than fossil-fuel energy and that is cheaper than conventional energy in many U.S. markets. 

The cities conclude in their opening argument that their experiences so far with bracing against extreme weather events and forecasted disasters ahead make curtailing emissions from fossil-fuel power plants a worthy plan.

"Educated by their experiences and anticipating the still more dramatic climatic changes looming in the foreseeable future, amici write in support of EPA and of the Clean Power Plan."

Read more about the businesses backing the Clean Power Plan.