The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on June 2 released its long-anticipated and much-debated ‘Clean Power Plan’ to control greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants.
The centerpiece of the Obama administration plan requires states to draft plans designed to cut carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector 30% below 2005 levels by 2030.
The CO2 control program will bring about several co-benefits, including cutting nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide by more than 25%, EPA said.
EPA said the goals can be accomplished through a combination of power plant improvements, generating more electricity from renewable energy or low-carbon sources and greater use of energy efficiency measures.
EPA said it plans to have states decrease the carbon intensity per megawatt hour (MWh) of electricity produced. States could use a wide variety of means to accomplish this, from zero-carbon nuclear energy to expanded use of state or regional greenhouse gas emission trading programs, according EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.
The 15-year plan won’t prove the death of fossil fuels, EPA said. The agency said that coal and natural gas-fueled generation are each still projected to provide at least 30% of the nation’s electricity in 2030.
The rule proposal itself is listed as 645 pages long.
The announcement marks the beginning of the second phase of the agency’s outreach efforts. EPA will accept comment on the proposal for 120 days after publication in the Federal Register and will hold four public hearings on the proposed Clean Power Plan during the week of July 28 in the following cities: Denver, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh.
Based on this input, EPA will finalize standards next June following the schedule laid out in the June 2013 Presidential Memorandum.
Combative McCarthy warns against ‘special interest skeptics’
During a 30-minute kick-off speech broadcast on C-SPAN, EPA chief McCarthy took an often combative tone, warning observers against “special interest skeptics warning that the sky is falling.”
Can the nation slash carbon pollution while still maintaining an affordable and reliable electric delivery system? “Sure we can,” McCarthy said. The EPA noted that emission of traditional pollutants linked to acid rain and smog have been slashed over decades while the U.S. economy has experienced enormous growth.
“I’m a little tired of people pointing to the polar vortex as a reason not to act on carbon,” McCarthy said. The rise of severe weather swings and storms is more of a threat to grid reliability than the proposed carbon program, she said.
“Climate change, fueled by carbon pollution, supercharges risks to our health, our economy, and our way of life. EPA is delivering on a vital piece of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan by proposing a Clean Power Plan that will cut harmful carbon pollution from our largest source–power plants,” McCarthy said.
“By leveraging cleaner energy sources and cutting energy waste, this plan will clean the air we breathe while helping slow climate change so we can leave a safe and healthy future for our kids. We don’t have to choose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment–our action will sharpen America’s competitive edge, spur innovation, and create jobs,” McCarthy said.
EPA claims that the program will avoid up to 6,600 premature deaths, up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children, and up to 490,000 missed work or school days.
EPA also contends that electricity bills will be reduced 8% by increasing energy efficiency and reducing demand in the electricity system. Coal-fired electric utilities have already been arguing that power costs will escalate dramatically under the EPA plan.
The Clean Power Plan will be implemented through a state-federal partnership under which states identify a path forward using either current or new electricity production and pollution control policies to meet the goals of the proposed program. The proposal provides guidelines for states to develop plans to meet state-specific goals to reduce CO2 and gives them the flexibility to design a program that makes the most sense for their unique situation, EPA said.
The deadline when states must submit plans to EPA in June 2016, with the option to use a two-step process for submitting final plans if more time is needed.
EPA said it has done extensive public outreach in developing the current program. It also said an extensive network of state and regional programs provide a good foundation for the EPA program.
“To date, 47 states have utilities that run demand-side energy efficiency programs, 38 have renewable portfolio standards or goals, and 10 have market-based greenhouse gas emissions programs. Together, the agency believes that these programs represent a proven, common-sense approach to cutting carbon pollution—one in which electricity is generated and used as efficiently as possible and which promotes a greater reliance on lower-carbon power sources,” EPA said.
In 2009, EPA determined that greenhouse gas pollution threatens Americans’ health and welfare by leading to long lasting changes in our climate that can have a range of negative effects on human health and the environment.