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Grandfathering Coal: Power Plant Regulation Under the Clean Air Act

July 2016

Citation: 46 ELR 10541

Issue: 7

Author: Richard Revesz, William M. Bumpers, Jack Lienke, David Doniger, and William Rosenberg

In their book Struggling for Air: Power Plants and the “War on Coal,” Richard Revesz and Jack Lienke detail the history of the Clean Air Act and the political compromises that led to exempting existing power plants from significant portions of the Act’s regulatory authority. They explain that the Act’s ambitious health-based goals fell short due to this “grandfathering,” which disincentivizes utilities from updating existing power plants or constructing new ones; and they examine attempts by the executive branch to address its impacts, including the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan. Coal proponents claim these efforts aim to significantly reduce coal’s share of the electricity market, leading some to talk about a “War on Coal.” But does the reality live up to the critics’ fears? On January 27, 2016, the Environmental Law Institute convened Revesz, Lienke, and other experts in the field to discuss the degree to which the Clean Power Plan reduces pollution, and the interaction between grandfathering and pollution reduction. In this Dialogue, we present a transcript of the discussion, which has been edited for style, clarity, and space considerations.

Richard Revesz (moderator) is Lawrence King Professor of Law and Dean Emeritus at New York University Law School and co-author of Struggling for Air. William M. Bumpers is a Partner at Baker Botts LLP. Jack Lienke is a Senior Attorney at New York University Law School’s Institute for Policy Integrity and co-author of Struggling for Air. David Doniger is Director of the Climate and Clean Air Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. William Rosenberg was Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation in the George H.W. Bush Administration.

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