EPA chief proud of changes made in final Clean Power Plan

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy told a Washington, D.C., audience on Aug. 11 that that revisions made in the final version of the Clean Power Plan seek to take advantage of existing trends in power generation.

“We are not going across the grain on the way the energy world is transitioning,” McCarthy told an audience at Resources for the Future (RFF), a think tank on environmental, energy, and natural resource issues.

McCarthy noted that about two-thirds of the states already have renewable energy targets of some type.

During her appearance, McCarthy defended the final carbon dioxide reduction rule, released Aug. 4. The 1,560-page proposal seeks to have states cut power sector CO2 emissions 32% by 2030. McCarthy also thinks that the 32% goal might be exceeded.

As might be expected, McCarthy issued a staunch defense of the Clean Power Plan. She predicted it would withstand legal challenge, rejected “doomsday” predictions put forward by critics and said that the measure will neither imperil grid reliability nor cause electric rates to surge.

These are “stale” arguments from an old playbook that some naysayers who opposed earlier Clean Air Act requirements years ago, McCarthy said. EPA maintains that the rule will actually save consumers $85 on their annual electric bill.

“As people get their arms around the final rule they will see that it’s legally solid … I think it will stand the test of time in the courts,” McCarthy said. “For those who don’t want [this federal regulation] there is quite a significant hurdle for them to reverse this,” she added.

But mostly, McCarthy expressed pride in the public process that triggered 4.3-million comments, which helped EPA mold the initial proposal into a more “doable” program, she said.

“Those comments helped us get to a plan that we know works for everyone,” McCarthy said. The end result is a rule that will both slash CO2 emissions and not restrain electric reliability and markets, McCarthy said.

One of the key changes to grow out of the public review process, was the decision to delay the first deadline for “mandatory” reductions back from 2020 until 2022, McCarthy said.

This should ease long-term planning headaches for electric utilities, McCarthy said.  

At the same time, the rule includes a Clean Energy Incentive Program to ensure that growth of wind, solar and energy efficiency projects don’t lose steam prior to 2022.

“We still wanted to make sure there wasn’t a hiatus: That people weren’t waiting until 2022,” on clean energy, McCarthy said. The incentive program is to “help support states that want to get out in front.”

In addition, EPA sought to make the final rule flexible enough to accommodate states who prefer a “mass-based” or a “rate-based” CO2 reduction approach. EPA also sought to enable CO2 reductions both for states who want a regional approach and those states who “don’t want to link arms with other states.”

“We think that we have allowed states that want to be independent to be as independent as they want,” McCarthy said.

When asked what she would tell coal miners about the EPA CO2 program, McCarthy said: “I realize there are communities that are suffering already” and the move to move to a low-carbon economy means more “challenges.” President Obama is looking at federal measures to help coal mining communities and “allow appropriate transition and services,” McCarthy said.

“I don’t think there is any issue I’ve worked with that is more complicated than climate change,” McCarthy said.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.