The Clean Power Plan (CPP) was the regulatory cornerstone of the U.S.’ Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that was included in the Paris Agreement of December 2015. The CPP was designed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after President Obama directed the agency to do so in June 2013, and had the goal of accelerating the adoption of newer and cleaner technologies to produce electricity in the country, gradually reducing the relative importance of coal in electricity generation in favour of natural gas and renewable sources.

After 12 months of intense activity to craft the rule, which included the organisation of multiple meetings to reach out to stakeholders and increase public buy-in, the EPA published the draft of the rule in June 2014. This opened a public notice-and-comment period of 120 days (which was later extended to 165 days) and by the end of the comment period, the agency had received over 4.3 million comments from a variety of stakeholders and members of the public. After updating the rule, the EPA published it in final form in August 2015, and was immediately sued in federal courts by a coalition of state governments, industrial interest groups, business associations and utility companies, who filed dozens of lawsuits.

As challenges to the CPP moved through the judicial system, on 28 March 2017 President Trump signed an executive order calling on the EPA Administrator to review the CPP rule and ‘if appropriate… suspend, revise, or rescind (the rule)’. Currently, the EPA is in the process of reviewing the rule, with the explicit intention of repealing it.

In a new article published in Climate Policy, we engaged in a systematic analysis of the patterns of participation of “core stakeholders” in the process of design of (and court challenges to) the CPP with the main goal of describing how advocacy coalitions engage in rule-making. Specifically, we examined how 77 “anti” and “pro” stakeholders participated in every stage of the design of the CPP—attending meetings, submitting comments to the agency, and litigating either against or in support of the CPP in federal courts. We found three sets of results that merit mention.

First, as Figure 1 shows, we found that ‘anti-CPP’ stakeholders were –on average- less active during the design stage of the rule (i.e. they tended to participate in fewer meetings) and more active during the litigation stage, which suggests that many of these actors may have had strong positions against the need to introduce new regulations to reduce GHG emissions in the energy-generating sector (regardless of the content of the rule).

Second, we also found that the actor with the highest overall level of activity in the process was the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (OKDEQ), which strongly coordinated its litigation against the CPP with then-Oklahoma Attorney General and current EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Pruitt’s stern opposition to the rule before being appointed as EPA Administrator helps understand why the Trump administration moved so vigorously against the CPP.

Finally, we used social network analysis (SNA) to show that ‘anti-CPP’ stakeholders were more likely to litigate together against the rule when they had jointly participated in meetings to discuss the rule (i.e. they attended the same meetings). We did not find that the same happened with ‘pro-CPP’ stakeholders. This is an important difference because it shows that opponents to the CPP may better self-organise as an advocacy coalition operating more monolithically across the different stages of the rule-making process. This result provides additional support for the argument that ‘pro-development’ coalitions, which often seek economic advantages by undermining environmental protections, tend to be more effective at jointly mobilising resources to influence the policy making process.

About the Authors

Ramiro Berardo is Associate Professor of Environmental Policy at The Ohio State University School of Environment and Natural Resources

Federico Holm is a PhD student at The Ohio State University School of Environment and Natural Resources