EPA and the States Positively Engage on Carbon Pollution Standards

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is actively consulting with the states – on the road and on the phone – and asking for their feedback on how carbon pollution standards for existing power plants should be structured. Through presentations and specific questions to states, EPA has been seeking – and receiving – a lot of positive and constructive feedback on how the EPA can achieve the greatest reductions at the lowest cost, and not surprisingly, some of it has been consistent.

Electric power plants are the largest source of the dangerous carbon pollution that is driving climate change and extreme weather. Today we limit the amount of arsenic, mercury, and soot these plants may emit. But there are no limits on carbon pollution and the president has directed the EPA to develop them for both new and existing power plants. The EPA has both the authority and the responsibility to reduce pollution from these plants under the Clean Air Act, and it plans to move forward to help protect future generations by proposing regulations in June of 2014.

In the summary below I’ve provided highlight quotes and links to examples of state and other stakeholder input to EPA on the carbon standards for existing power plants. There is a lot of consistency in the responses, including: asking EPA to building on existing state and utility policies and programs; embracing a systematic approach to setting the standard; and many acknowledge or embrace the need to significantly reduce carbon pollution.

  • State Air and Utility Regulators from CA, CO, CT, DE, IL, ME, MD, MA, MN, NH, NY, OR, RI, VT and WA:
    • …we applaud the commitment by President Barack Obama and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to tackle head-on the challenge of climate change, and to focus in part upon reducing carbon emissions from existing power plants…
    • We encourage EPA to develop a stringent but flexible framework that equitably achieves meaningful reductions in carbon pollution from the electricity sector while recognizing that states may employ a variety of strategies, including successful state programs already in force, to achieve these goals.
  • Midwestern Power Sector Collaborative, which includes state regulators from Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota, investor owned and cooperative utilities, and NGO (non-governmental organizations)s:
    • In proposing the level of the standard, EPA should enable states to use averaging and/or crediting programs that enable more cost-effective reductions, including the reasonable assumption that states will adopt plans containing one or more flexibility mechanisms to lower costs.
    • Stringency at the outset of the program should be aligned with technologies adequately demonstrated. As lower-emitting technologies improve and costs decline, the stringency of the program should increase.
  • National Association of Clean Air Agencies:
    • Section 111(d) provides that EPA establish the “best system of emissions reductions” taking into account costs. EPA should establish a flexible program that recognizes that end-use energy efficiency and renewable energy investments, policies and programs (“programs”) and shifting utilization towards lower emitting power plants reduce GHG emissions from the electrical system as a whole. EPA should set emissions standards that take into consideration the flexibility provided by such a proposal.
    • We…look forward to working with the agency in this effort so that we can achieve a flexible, cost-effective program that reduces emissions of greenhouse gases and other air pollutants and is easily administered by state and local air pollution control agencies.
  • National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners:
    • Resolved, That the guidelines should be flexible enough to allow States individually or regionally to take into account, when establishing standards of performance, the different makeup of existing power generation in each State and region;
    • Resolved, That the guidelines should provide sufficiently flexible compliance pathways or mechanisms that recognize State and regional variations to achieve the most cost-effective emissions reductions in each State;
  • State Attorney Generals from NY, CA, CT, DE, ME, MD, MA, OR, RI, VT, WA, and DC:
    • EPA is first tasked with issuing emission guidelines that include minimum substantive emission limitations. In doing so, the Act authorizes EPA to determine the degree of emission limitation achievable when the best system of emission reduction, as determined by EPA to have been adequately demonstrated, is applied. To make this determination, EPA must consider a range of systems, including source-based and system-based approaches of emission reduction. Then, EPA prescribes how to measure the achievable emission limitation, for example, with a pounds per megawatt hour emission rate, or a tons per year mass emission limit.
    • EPA must give the States options to demonstrate compliance with its emission guidelines and tell the States how to show that their plans are equivalent to such guidelines.
    • In short, the statute gives EPA and the States sufficient flexibility to achieve meaningful reductions of greenhouse gas emissions quickly and in a cost-effective way.
  • Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative States:  
    • Building on their states’ success in cutting carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 40 percent since 2005, the RGGI states encourage EPA to view the RGGI success story as a benchmark for national action. The RGGI states are also recommending that EPA’s new rules empower states to develop market-based GHG emission reduction programs designed to work for their region(s).
  • Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative Stakeholders (electric utilities, generators, and NGOs)
    • The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) should qualify as a compliance mechanism framework under forthcoming EPA rules under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act. EPA should allow additional states to use the RGGI cap-­â€and-­â€trade mechanism to meet federal Section 111(d) emission reduction requirements, subject to a determination of performance level equivalency.
    • …the RGGI mechanism is a flexible system-based approach that offers benefits to participating states and in the context of section 111 of the Clean Air Act has been adequately demonstrated as a system of emissions reduction.
  • Iowa Utilities Board:
    • The IUB encourages EPA to consider the differences between CO2 emissions from existing plants and other emissions from such plants regulated under the Clean Air Act. While the IUB agrees with an overall goal to reduce harmful emissions, it seems difficult to place a specific numeric limit on CO2 emissions from existing power plants at the plant level.
    • Therefore, the IUB encourages EPA to consider a more program-and-action-based system in which EPA facilitates the continuation of the evolution of the electric industry toward increased use of energy efficiency, resulting in more efficient use of energy and reductions in use and peak demand, and toward increased use of generation with reduced carbon intensity and lower overall CO2 emissions. This evolution of the electric industry is already going on for many reasons, and in the case of CO2 regulation, it appears that EPA can use this evolution when regulating CO2 emissions from existing plants.
    • The IUB recommends that performance standards and the best system of emission reduction for CO2 for existing plants under CAA Section 111(d) should be a series of programs and actions, such as those discussed above, that are implemented by the states and utilities and that are proven to achieve energy savings and reduce CO2 emissions and the carbon intensity of electric generation over time.

Hopefully, as EPA wraps up its listening tour this year and interested states and stakeholders submit their comments in to the agency, EPA will post a complete list of the feedback they have received. EPA is receiving a lot of constructive input on the design of carbon standards for existing power plants and has plenty to build on as they develop the proposal due in June of 2014.