Employees at the U.S. EPA have a lot of reading to do.
By yesterday’s deadline, the agency had received more than 1.6 million comments on its proposed standards to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants, per its authority under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act.
The "Clean Power Plan" introduced in June will set individual target emissions rates for each state toward an overall target to cut power sector emissions 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, with interim targets averaging 25 percent between 2020 and 2029.
“We’ve heard that the carbon reduction targets we proposed are too tough, and we’ve heard that they’re not tough enough -- and much, much more,” Janet McCabe, EPA’s acting assistant administrator for air and radiation, wrote in a blog post yesterday. “What we know for sure is that people care about this issue, and we know we have a lot to consider as we work toward a final rule.”
The EPA laid out four building blocks in its proposed rule: make fossil-fuel power plants more efficient, shift from coal to natural gas, adopt low-emitting power sources like renewable energy and nuclear, and increase demand-side energy efficiency.
States themselves offered more specific recommendations based on the energy resources and existing policies in their region.
For instance, the nine Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative reiterated their support yesterday for the inclusion of new natural gas combined-cycle plants in building block two based on increased uptake in recent years. RGGI states also strongly supported EPA’s inclusion of mass-based systems (the cornerstone of cap and trade) as a compliance option.
The Southern States Energy Board, which represents sixteen states and two territories, noted that a disproportionate amount (75 percent) of the 46 to 49 gigawatts of coal the EPA expects will be shut down by 2020 will come from the region it represents. Among its recommendations, the group called for increased promotion and funding for carbon capture and storage technology deemed “essential to ensuring that coal remains a vital and competitive asset in the United States’ energy portfolio.”
The Bipartisan Policy Center launched an interactive map yesterday to track written comments submitted to the EPA from state and federal officials.
A common concern among almost all state agencies is that they will lack the time to develop their compliance plans and the flexibility to enact them. The EPA’s final rule is expected next June. States then have until 2016 to submit their plans, until 2017 if they file for an extension and until 2018 if they’re partnering on a plan with other states.
According to comments submitted by the National Association of Clean Air Agencies (NACAA), a nonprofit group representing pollution control agencies in 41 states and 116 metropolitan areas, “Some agencies may still need additional time given their state legislatures’ schedules and rulemaking timeframes.”
The group also noted that the proposal does not adequately reward states that took early action. And, while not strictly part of the proposal, it said it is essential that the EPA provide state and local agencies with additional funding to make the Clean Power Plan a success. But while concerns remain, overall, states feel they’re being heard.
“I think the process of involving state and local governments in the development of this rule has been remarkable,” said William Becker, executive director of the NACAA. “It is too early to tell if the states’ concerns will be adequately addressed, [but] it is clear EPA is listening.”
“I can certainly see a viable path for the rule to move forward,” he added.
Utilities continue to push back
It comes as no surprise that utilities are less enthusiastic about the rulemaking process. In the 400 pages of comments submitted by Edison Electric Institute, the investor-owned utility group that is strongly opposed to the EPA’s four proposed building blocks as the “best system of emission reduction," key elements of the Clean Air Act.
“Never before have the best system of emission reduction provisions of the Clean Air Act been applied to authorize EPA to regulate states and markets in this way. These legal issues…eventually will be addressed by the inevitable litigation of the proposed 111(d) guidelines,” according to the Edison Electric Institute’s comments.
Among its recommendations, the group called for the elimination of interim goals so that states can determine their own “glide path” to 2030. To satisfy the interim goals, many states must achieve more than 50 percent of their 2030 emission reduction goals by 2020, and eleven states must achieve more than 75 percent of their goals by 2020.
“There is not sufficient time between now and 2020 for utilities and states to develop, plan, design, and complete the infrastructure required to meet the interim goals as proposed,” said Edison Electric Institute president Tom Kuhn in a statement.
The EPA proposal also needs to adopt an expanded definition of “new” nuclear plants and hydropower projects to incentivize their continued operation and development.
In its comments, the American Public Power Association shared many of EEI’s concerns, including the need to eradicate the interim goals.
APPA also urged the EPA to offer full credit for investments in renewables, energy efficiency and other actions to offset CO2 that have already been undertaken; to provide more guidance on the development of multi-state agreements; and to establish a reliability “safety valve” to ensure that compliance does not impair system reliability.
“If implemented in its current form, EPA’s proposed rule will create economic inefficiency, impose additional costs on electricity customers, threaten the reliability of the electricity system, and force risky over-reliance on a single fuel -- natural gas -- to generate electricity,” according to APPA’s press release.
Environmentalists say EPA shortchanged renewables
A slew of environmental groups also weighed in on the Clean Power Plan yesterday.
The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions' (C2ES) comments aligned with several of the states’ and power sector’s concerns, including the need for more support for nuclear and hydropower generation. Notably, the group also called for the EPA to consider softening the interim targets to give states adequate time to invest in long-term solutions like renewable energy, rather than being forced to invest in natural gas to replace coal.
C2ES also advocated for a nationwide, comprehensive, market-based program, like cap and trade, to reduce carbon emissions. Meanwhile, more than 100 public interest and environmental groups argued against cap and trade in a letter to President Obama yesterday.
“Trading may offer cheaper compliance for polluters, but it means that communities disproportionately burdened by the dirtiest power plants continue to live with the health impacts of co-pollutants,” they wrote.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), along with several other environmental groups, pushed for the EPA to adopt even more aggressive emissions reduction targets. By ramping up energy efficiency and renewable power, the EPA could cut carbon pollution by more than 40 percent by 2030, up from the EPA’s proposed 30 percent by the same year.
EPA similarly underestimated the potential for energy efficiency. Including efficiency gains achieved through building codes, transmission and distribution, and voltage optimization, NRDC calculated that efficiency could achieve savings equal to 2 percent of retail sales each year, versus the 1.5 percent the EPA calculated.
“Let’s recognize the full potential for cutting dangerous carbon pollution by investing more in energy efficiency and renewable power,” said David Doniger, director of NRDC’s climate and clean air program. “We’ll get more with less, save people money on their electric bills, and put people back to work building and installing clean energy systems for tomorrow.”