In June of 2014, the EPA proposed a draft rule to regulate carbon dioxide. The rule made headlines for weeks and then largely dropped from public conversation. While the conversation may have died, the ramifications of the rule will be felt by Alabama’s political class much sooner than many expect.

The EPA has proposed that Alabama reduce its carbon emissions related to electricity generation from 1,444 pounds per megawatt hour to 1,059 pounds by 2030, a reduction of slightly less than 30 percent.

The rule is based on EPA’s view of optimal future carbon reductions as embodied by the Best System of Emission Reduction (BSER). The BSER assumes four “building blocks” to reduce carbon. The first is heat rate improvements at existing generating units. The second block expects increased generation from natural gas combined-cycle plants. The third anticipates more low-or-zero carbon-emission generating units, and the fourth block predicts demand-side energy-efficiency improvements.

Most importantly, the EPA plans to issue a final rule by June 2015. From there, states must submit their compliance plans to their respective regional EPA office no later than June 30, 2016.

While the EPA considers its model to be an example of “cooperative federalism,” many state politicians would likely consider it an example of “federal puppetry.” Like other pollutants regulated under the Clean Air Act, Alabama is required to design a state implementation plan (SIP) for the new rule. If that plan does not meet EPA approval, the EPA may require amendments to the SIP. If those amendments do not occur within two years, the EPA can then craft a federal implementation plan (FIP) that cuts the state out of the regulatory framework entirely.

Needless to say, most of Alabama’s state and federal politicians consider the EPA’s carbon rule to be the height of federal overreach and a significant economic burden imposed on the state for a relatively negligible impact on global carbon emissions. Most opponents of the carbon rule continue to hope that the courts invalidate the rule or that political dynamics change enough to undo it.

While those options remain possibilities, time could become a critical issue. Without any immediate changes, Alabama could be facing a final EPA carbon rule around nine months from now.

If legal and political efforts to derail the EPA’s carbon rule fail, politicians who have fought President Obama’s carbon regulation plan tooth and nail will be required to create their own means of reducing carbon emissions under the EPA’s supervision, or stand idly by and watch the EPA completely craft the regulatory environment for energy generation in the state.

Neither option will be politically palatable in a conservative state like Alabama, but the situation could serve as a sobering reality concerning the growing power of the EPA and the states that have become little more than its puppets.

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