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Pens Down on the Clean Power Plan – Now All Eyes Turn to EPA

December 4, 2014 Work Area: Power Plants

On Monday at midnight, the comment period for the Administration’s Clean Power Plan closed. Over 1 million comments, including CATF’s, already have been posted on EPA’s ambitious effort to control carbon dioxide (CO2) from the nation’s largest industrial source of that pollution– the existing fossil fueled power sector. The stage is finally set for the last act, EPA’s final issuance of a strong directive to states to achieve real cuts in CO2 from power plan from power plants.

CO2 persists in the environment for centuries after it is emitted, causing the planet to warm and leading to climate disruption and damage across the planet. Climate change is also expected to dramatically impact the electricity system. Scientists overwhelmingly agree that increasing global temperatures will alter the level, timing and geographic location of electricity demand, and more intense storm activity and sea level rise will affect electricity infrastructure. Fortunately, the cost of reducing emissions are projected by some to be less than will be the costs to meet additional demand for electricity under a business as usual scenario with higher temperatures.

Burning fossil fuel to generate electricity accounts for almost 40 percent of this country’s industrial and commercial CO2emissions. There is therefore no question that significant reductions of CO2 from existing, as well as new, fossil-fueled power plants are sorely needed, as an essential step towards avoiding the worst impacts of climate damage. The United States has set very reasonable targets – some would say not strong enough – for emission reductions in the near and medium term, but without significant reductions from power plants, the U.S. simply cannot meet our commitments. Moreover, as the President recognized, we have a moral obligation to future generations to take meaningful action now.

The Administration’s proposal is a significant step forward in reducing CO2 emissions from power plants. We agree wholeheartedly with the Agency that existing power plants must achieve CO2 emissions reductions that are “quantifiable, non-duplicative, permanent, verifiable, and enforceable,” and that the program itself must be capable of being practicably administered by the states and EPA. In our comments, we highlight a number of ways EPA can finalize directive stronger rule, to provide greater clarity and ensure real reductions as the states implement EPA’s directives:

  1. EPA should finalize state targets based on its “reduced utilization” alternative best system of emissions reduction (BSER) which would include reduced utilization of facilities through re-dispatch to lower-emitting units, and through increased reliance on nuclear energy, energy efficiency, and truly low-emitting renewables.
  2. While EPA’s interim and final target emission rates are reasonable, because they can be achieved in a variety of ways by states, they are also overly conservative, in several ways, and can be strengthened.  In particular, EPA’s first building block should be strengthened to reflect not only heat rate improvements, but the availability of natural gas co-firing, unit retirements and the reality of CCS retrofits. CATF’s modeling results, which adjust EPA’s incorrect assumptions using real world information, predict 10 GW or more of carbon capture with EOR sequestration will be built in the 3 states modeled during the period 2014-2030, and an additional 6 GW will be built in the rest of the continental U.S.
  3. CATF strongly recommends that EPA provide a model rule, for voluntary adoption by states, defining approvable parameters for a multistate mass-based allowance system to implement EPA’s emissions targets. EPA should codify firm, mass-based ceilings to govern such a system – and the Agency can and should offer implementation assistance from the Clean Air Markets Division for participating states. At very minimum, EPA should provide guidance, including the parameters of an approvable plan for states wishing to rely on allowance trading. That is the best way EPA can realize the goals of quantifiable, non-duplicative, permanent, verifiable, and enforceable CO2 reductions from this industry.

Midnight on December 1st was a long time coming. Now we look to EPA to meet the President’s deadline of June 2015 for a final rule, and then to states and EPA to implement real changes that achieve real reductions from the U.S. power sector.

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