“Every time America has set clear rules and better standards for our air, our water
and our children’s health — the warnings of the cynics have been wrong. They warned
that doing something about the smog choking our cities, and acid rain poisoning our lakes, would kill business. It didn’t. Our air got cleaner, acid rain was cut
dramatically, and our economy kept growing.”
— President Obama, Reducing Carbon Pollution in Our Power Plants (May 31, 2014)
The Environmental Protection Agency announced proposed new rules for existing sources of greenhouse gas emissions. This highly anticipated action is the result of a year’s worth of meetings and planning by EPA with the input of stakeholders from industry, power producers, environmental groups, state and local regulators, and other interested parties representing over 300 groups. It will likely generate scrutiny, discussion and litigation.
In the 2013 State of the Union Speech, President Obama briefly described his goal to address climate change. This action follows President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which consisted of three distinct parts:
• Develop policies that will cut the emission of carbon into the atmosphere.
• Develop response activities and plans related to the unavoidable results of climate change.
• Propose international efforts to reduce carbon emissions and develop response plans with other major emitters of greenhouse gases (GHG).
EPA’s proposed rule and explanatory text is well over 600 pages long. Future blog entries will focus on the detail of the proposed rule. In the meantime, it may be helpful to briefly look at the goals of the proposed rule and how it seeks to meet those goals.
As one third of all GHG emissions are related to existing power plants, EPA concluded that no meaningful reduction in GHG emissions could occur without addressing existing plants. The proposed rule seeks to reduce GHG emissions by 30 percent by 2030. The proposed rule also seeks to gain environmental and health side benefits through the reduction of other types of pollutants emitted by power plants.
How does it seek to reduce these pollutants? The proposed rule anticipates establishing state-by-state goals at reducing GHG emissions through improvements in efficiency and the use of clean energy technologies. States will have flexibility within their borders to meet those goals.
EPA has established a formula to set each state’s goals by dividing a fossil-fuel fired plant’s carbon dioxide emissions by the amount of electricity generated within the state as measured by megawatt hours. Each state will get an interim goal that it must meet from 2020-2029. By 2030, each state will have a final goal that it must meet and maintain.
Based on existing programs, EPA established four “building blocks” that will drive state programs:
• Fossil-fuel fired plants must become more efficient.
• Increased use of low-carbon power sources.
• Expand the use of zero- and low-emitting power sources.
• Increase energy efficiency at the user end.
Already, people are guessing who the winners and losers will be. The most commonly cited losers are the coal-fired electrical industry and coal producers, although with the development of carbon sequestration, that might not be a given. Winners might include nuclear power and “green” energy technologies.
EPA will hold four public meetings during the week of July 28. As with any proposed rule, there is an opportunity for public comment.
For an environmental attorney, these are interesting times. I will be digging through the proposed regulations and responses to them in the coming weeks. I expect to be writing a lot more about this.
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