Legal Resources for Decarbonization: Fossil Fuel Phase Out in Electricity Generation


In order to achieve a low-carbon world, it is essential to make the use of energy far more efficient and to introduce a very significant amount of renewable or otherwise carbon-free generation. Yet, these steps alone will not decarbonize electricity. Each scenario in the DDPP reports envisions dramatic reductions in the use of fossil fuels to generate electricity. Fossil-fired generation, utilizing coal and natural gas, provides a lion’s share of the gigawatt hours serving end-use customers, and shows no sign of abating. History does not support the assumption that cleaner technologies will push out the dirtier ones. What are needed are affirmative actions designed to phase out the use of fossil fuels to generate electricity. Affirmative steps come in various forms. They start with planning—recognizing current patterns of fossil fuel use and charting a different course. Action can include some combination of specific state and federal prohibitions on the use of fossil fuels by all electric service providers; limits on GHG emissions; closure or divestment of government-owned fossil-fueled generators; and the implementation of policies that have a direct or indirect effect on the cost of power from carbon-emitting sources. The chapter expands on the nature of the challenge and describes the range of solutions in greater detail. The chapter has two appendices. The first, written by Stephen Herzenberg, recommends social policies to accelerate a fossil fuel phaseout. The second, written by Michael Gerrard, recommends ways of addressing stranded assets.


Coal Storage Bans [2 resources]Natural Gas Transition Proceedings [3 resources]Regional Transmission Planning [5 resources]Restricting Fossil-Fuel Powered Electric Plants [17 resources]Federal Fossil Fuel Phaseouts [4 resources]Carbon Adders in Rates and Utility Planning [7 resources]Impacting Power Plant Economics Through Cooling Water Restrictions [3 resources]Coal Ash Restrictions [2 resources]Divesting from Fossil Fuels [7 resources]Social Policies to Facilitate a Just Carbon Transition [19 resources]Stranded Assets and Climate Disclosures [20 resources]Prohibiting Oil and Gas Extraction [11 resources]Fossil-Free Communities [2 resources]


LPDD Recommendation: “States could adopt restrictions on new coal-fired power plants (e.g., emission limits or CCS requirements).

LPDD Recommendation“States could impose an outright ban on new coal-fired generation and/or a formal limit on new natural gas gen­eration additions.”

LPDD Recommendation: “States with restrictions on new coal-fired power plants could adopt more stringent limitations, including not only emissions at the smokestack, but also on a life-cycle basis (at the mine or during transit, at the wellhead, along the pipeline, and in conjunction with storage).”


Rhode Island’s Executive Order 20-01 (2020)

JURISDICTION: States and State GovernmentsSetting a goal for the state to source all of its electricity from renewable resources by the end of 2030, effectively phasing out fossil generation.READ MORE

Report, Phasing-Out Ontario’s Gas-Fired Power Plants: A Roadmap

JURISDICTION: ForeignReport projects being able to simultaneously phase-out the gas plants, achieve Ontario’s 2030 climate target, move the province towards a 100% renewable electricity grid and lower electricity bills.READ MORE

Virginia’s Clean Economy Act, SB 851 (2020)

JURISDICTION: State LegislaturesRequires two large utilities to close all carbon-emitting power plants by 2045 and 2050.READ MORE

California Decision on 2030 Climate Targets, Energy Mix

JURISDICTION: State Public Utility CommissionsCalifornia’s PUC set a new emissions target for its electric sector to guide integrated resource planning processes that would double the state’s clean energy capacity by 2030 and prohibit the development of new natural gas plants.READ MORE

Hawaii’s HB 623

JURISDICTION: State LegislaturesIn June 2015, Hawaii enacted HB 623, a law requiring all electric power to come from renewable sources by 2045, effectively phasing out fossil fuels from electricity production.READ MORE

New York CO2 Limits on Power Plants

JURISDICTION: State AgenciesIn May 2019 the Department of Environmental Conservation adopted new CO2 limits that will effectively ban coal plants in 2020.READ MORE

New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act

JURISDICTION: State LegislaturesIncreased the ambition of the state’s Renewable Portfolio standard to target 70 percent renewable electricity by 2030 and 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2040, effectively phasing out fossil fuels from electricity production.READ MORE

New Jersey’s SCR 179

JURISDICTION: State LegislaturesNew Jersey legislators have proposed a ballot measure that would ask voters whether to amend the state’s constitution to ban new fossil fuel fired plants.READ MORE

New Jersey’s Executive Order 28

JURISDICTION: States and State GovernmentsDirecting the development of an updated Energy Master Plan (EMP) for the state to achieve 100 percent clean energy by 2050, effectively phasing out fossil fuels from electricity production.READ MORE

New Mexico’s Energy Transition Act

JURISDICTION: State LegislaturesAmends the state’s renewable portfolio standard to target 80% renewable energy by 2040 and 100% zero carbon energy by 2045, effectively phasing out fossil fuels from electricity production.READ MORE

Illinois’ Clean Coal Portfolio Standard Law

JURISDICTION: State LegislaturesRequired that new power plants using coal as their primary feedstock must utilize CCS. The legislation set a compliance schedule beginning at 50% of emissions, and augmenting up to 90% in 2017 and forward.READ MORE

Montana’s HB 25

JURISDICTION: State LegislaturesCreated a GHG emissions performance standard that applies to acquisition of an equity interest or lease in electric power-generating units primarily fueled with coal in the state, requiring the use of CCS for a minimum of 50% of the CO2 produced.READ MORE

Washington’s Coal Phaseout

JURISDICTION: State LegislaturesIn 2019, Washington passed SB 5116, which will require utilities in Washington to stop buying electricity generated from coal by the end of 2025 or face penalties.READ MORE

Washington’s GHG Performance Standards for Baseload Electric

JURISDICTION: State LegislaturesIn 2009, Washington adopted a GHG performance standard for new in-state baseload electric power generation utilities, set orginally at 1,100 pounds CO2/MWh, and reduced to 926 lb/MWh since.READ MORE

Oregon’s SB 1547

JURISDICTION: State LegislaturesOregon’s SB 1547 (2016) created an explicit prohibition on the use of coal power by investor-owned utilities as of 2030.READ MORE

California’s SB 100

JURISDICTION: State LegislaturesIn 2018, California passed Senate Bill 100, requiring 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2045, effectively phasing out coal and natural gas.READ MORE

California’s SB 1368

JURISDICTION: State LegislaturesProhibited any new long-term investment by a California load-serving entity in a generating facility with smokestack emissions exceeding a level to be jointly determined by the California Energy Commission and California Public Utilities Commission.READ MORE


LPDD Recommendation“Congress should enact and fund the RECLAIM Act of 2017 (H.R. 1731) (also known as “POWER Plus”) to provide $1 billion dollars over five years to restore abandoned coal mines to something like their natural state, while also scaling up economic diversification efforts in coal country.”

LPDD Recommendation“Congress could adopt “carbon adjustment assistance” for dislocated carbon workers modeled on Trade Adjust­ment Assistance for workers dislocated by trade, and move toward an overall “active labor market system” through which society as a whole covers more of the costs to workers and their families of all economic transitions.”

LPDD Recommendation“Congress could use grants, technical assistance, and peer learning to induce more companies to reposition them­selves from carbon to non-carbon energy markets, retraining and retaining more of their existing workers, and reducing job loss in communities currently dependent on carbon jobs. Congress should also require the participation of workers and their representatives in sectoral reemployment initiatives.”

LPDD Recommendation“State legislatures could allow utilities to charge ratepayers for the cost of industrywide hiring halls and for retraining that bridges the gap between workers’ old skills and new occupations. State legislatures could require within future renewable energy portfolio standards or energy-efficiency mandates hiring preferences for workers dislocated from coal-fired power plants. State legislatures should also promote the creation of more clean energy jobs in coal country; local governments should also promote the creation of more clean energy jobs in coal country. State legislatures should re-envision the severance taxes that create natural resource trust funds as tools for phas­ing down extraction of fossil fuels and raising more near-term resources for social policies that support just transi­tions. To reduce or eliminate the wage gap between carbon and non-carbon jobs, state legislatures could establish within RPS and energy-efficiency laws occupational wage standards in non-carbon energy industry occupations.”


Report, Shaping an Inclusive Energy Transition

JURISDICTION: ForeignLooks at the distributional effects of EU climate policy and makes recommendations on steering policy towards a just transition. READ MORE

Minnesota’s Community Energy Transition Grants

JURISDICTION: State LegislaturesTransition grant program for communities housing a coal, nuclear, or natural gas facility that is scheduled for decommissioning, intended to address economic dislocation.READ MORE

New York’s Clean Climate Careers Initiative

JURISDICTION: States and State GovernmentsLaunched in 2017 with the goal of creating 40,000 new clean energy jobs by 2020, the Initiative includes an Environmental Justice and Just Transition Working Group to advise the administration.READ MORE

California’s Transformative Climate Communities Program

JURISDICTION: States and State GovernmentsA competitive grant program that gives resources to the most disadvantaged communities in the state to achieve major environmental, health, and economic transformations.READ MORE

CPUC Closure of Mohave Coal Facility

JURISDICTION: State Public Utility Commissions, Public UtilitiesCPUC considered the impacts of closing a Mohave coal facility on the nearby Hopi and Navajo communities, and allocated funds from the sale of Acid Rain SO2 allowances to help transition.READ MORE

PG&E Joint Proposal on Shutting Down Diablo Canyon

JURISDICTION: State Public Utility Commissions, Public UtilitiesA 2016 PG&E joint proposal to retire the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant provides one model of a just transition. The agreement outlines severance, retention programs, and retraining and redeployment.READ MORE

Colorado’s SB-236

JURISDICTION: State LegislaturesAuthorizes the securitization of coal plants, and uses some of the millions of dollars in savings from securitization to reinvest back in workers and vulnerable communities.READ MORE

Colorado’s HB-1314

JURISDICTION: State LegislaturesEstablishes a Just Transition Office in the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. The office is charged with creating an equitable plan for coal-dependent communities and workers as the state transitions away from fossil fuels.READ MORE

Report, Creating an Economic Diversification Trust Fund

JURISDICTION: States and State GovernmentsHighlighted the potential of a natural resource trust to fund economic diversification efforts in West Virginia.READ MORE

Report, The Economics of Just Transition

JURISDICTION: CongressProposes a just transition framework for U.S. fossil fuel workers.READ MORE

Report, Real People, Real Change

JURISDICTION: ForeignHighlights political and communications strategies for a just transition, building on research and case studies of energy transitions that have happened or that are happening in Canada, Egypt, Indonesia, India, Poland and Ukraine.READ MORE

Canada’s Just Transition Task Force Final Report

JURISDICTION: ForeignMakes ten recommendations on what Canada could include in a just transition plan for coal workers and communities.READ MORE

Report, Build a Better Future for Coal Workers and Their Communities

JURISDICTION: CongressReviews the challenges facing the coal workforce and the case for significant federal investment in those workers and the areas in which they live.READ MORE

World Bank Report, Managing Coal Mine Closure

JURISDICTION: Congress, States and State Governments, Local Governments, Private EntitiesSummarizes lessons-learned from more than two decades of World Bank assistance on coal mine closure to governments, enterprises, workers and their communities.READ MORE

Just Transition Fund

JURISDICTION: Private EntitiesDedicated to creating economic opportunity for the frontline communities and workers hardest hit by the transition away from coal. They provide both grants and technical assistance to local leaders.  READ MORE

Proposed American Miners Act of 2019

JURISDICTION: CongressWould transfer certain funds to provide pension and health benefits for retired coal miners who have been affected by issues such as coal company bankruptcies.READ MORE

Proposed Clean Energy Worker Just Transition Act of 2015

JURISDICTION: CongressWould award temporary adjustment assistance to workers of adversely affected coal-related industries who are totally or partially separated because of the low cost of competing alternative forms of energy.READ MORE

Proposed Healthy Employee Loss Prevention Act of 2018

JURISDICTION: CongressWould establish a worker adjustment assistance program to provide assistance and job retraining for workers who have lost their jobs due to unplanned closures of coal and coal dependent industries.READ MORE

Proposed RECLAIM Act of 2017

JURISDICTION: CongressWould provide $1 billion dollars over five years to restore abandoned coal mines to something like their natural state, while also scaling up economic diversification efforts in coal country.READ MORE



Ann Arbor’s A2Zero Plan

JURISDICTION: Local GovernmentsStrategy to shift away from using fossil fuels and power the community with 100% renewable energy within 10 years, while significantly reducing driving and expanding public transit.READ MORE

Takoma Park’s Climate Emergency Response Framework

JURISDICTION: Local GovernmentsEstablishes the goals of becoming a fossil-free community by 2045, and demands the municipality develop plans to eliminate the use of fossil fuels in buildings, transportation, electricity, and all other sectors.READ MORE