EPA carbon rule: how it works

Monday, June 9, 2014

Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a groundbreaking proposed rule to limit carbon emissions from power plants.  EPA's Clean Power Plan would require each state to develop a plan to limit the amount of carbon dioxide its power plants produce per unit of electricity generated.  By reducing the carbon intensity of electric generation, EPA projects that the Clean Power Plan would would achieve a 30 percent reduction in CO2 emission from the nation's power sector below CO2 emission levels in 2005, resulting in net climate and health benefits of $48 billion to $82 billion.  Importantly, the Clean Power Plan would rely on federal and state cooperation to achieve this goal.

Public Service of New Hampshire's Schiller Station, in Portsmouth, NH, can burn coal, oil, and wood chips.

EPA proposed the carbon rule pursuant to its authority under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act.  As with other Section 111(d) regulations, the Clean Power Plan relies on a combination of federal emission limits and state implementation plans.  First, EPA proposed state-specific carbon dioxide emission goals, stated as an emission rate of pounds of CO2 emitted per net megawatt-hour of electricity generated.  Second, EPA offered states guidelines for how to develop, submit, and implement their own plans to reach those emission goals.

At the federal level, EPA set a carbon emissions rate limit for each state based on the agency's evaluation of how much the state could feasibly reduce emissions by adopting the "best system of emission reduction", or BSER.  Effectively, EPA considered each state's portfolio of electricity generating resources as well as how hard it would be to reduce its carbon intensity.

At the state level, EPA expects each state to propose a plan based on a combination of four "building blocks" or types of measures:
  • Reducing the carbon intensity of generation at individual affected fossil-fired electric generating units (or EGUs) through heat rate improvements
  • Reducing emissions from the most carbon-intensive affected EGUs by substituting generation at those EGUs with generation from natural gas combined cycle power plants and other less carbon-intensive fossil-fired units
  • Reducing emissions from affected EGUs by substituting generation at those EGUs with expanded low- or zero-carbon generation
  • Reducing emissions from affected EGUs through demand-side energy efficiency measures 
State plans would be subject to EPA approval, based on their enforceability, ability to achieve emission performance, verifiability, and reporting process.  EPA suggested that states may develop collaborative multistate programs.  States may also incorporate existing CO2 emissions reduction programs such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative or California's carbon market into their plans.  Procedurally, EPA expects that states would submit their plans by June 30, 2016, for review and approval, with the possibility of a one-year extension of this deadline.

EPA is now taking public comment on its proposed Clean Power Plan rule for 120 days, and will hold public hearings on the proposal in July and August.  EPA projects that it would issue its final Clean Power Plan rule in June 2015.

EPA carbon rule: cost and benefit

Friday, June 6, 2014

Monday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.  Part of the EPA's "Clean Power Plan", the rule would rely on states developing and implementing their own plans to reduce the amount of carbon emitted by the electric power sector per unit of electricity generated.  EPA projects that if fully implemented, meeting this goal would reduce the power sector's carbon emissions to 30% below 2005 levels by 2030.  But what will this cost -- and what will the benefits be?

Steam rises from the Con Edison power plant at 14th Street and Avenue C, in New York City.  The plant can burn fuels including oil and natural gas.

Power plants represent the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S., accounting for about one-third of the nation's greenhouse gas emissions.  Building on President Obama's 2013 Climate Action Plan and the May 2014 release of the third National Climate Assessment, the Clean Power Plan is premised upon the finding that greenhouse gas pollution "threatens the American public by leading to potentially rapid, damaging and long-lasting changes in our climate that can have a range of severe negative effects on human health and the environment."  The proposed rule targets carbon dioxide because is the most prevalent greenhouse gas, accounting for 82% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

The Clean Power Plan requires states to develop plans to reduce the carbon intensity, or amount of carbon emitted per unit of useful energy, of their power plants.  Each state is allowed to select the measures it wishes to use to reach its carbon intensity goal.  This allows states flexibility to craft policies to reduce carbon pollution that:
1) continue to rely on a diverse set of energy resources, 2) ensure electric system reliability, 3) provide affordable electricity, 4) recognize investments that states and power companies are already making, and 5) can be tailored to meet the specific energy, environmental and economic needs and goals of each state .
The economic impacts of the Clean Power Plan will form a key theme in the debate over its implementation.  The flexibility afforded states makes projections of costs and benefits hard to quantify, even before consideration of the global social cost of carbon or economic concepts like the appropriate discount rate to apply to future costs and benefits.  With those caveats stated, EPA has analyzed two illustrative cases: a collaborative, regional compliance approach (perhaps along the lines of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative) and a state-by-state approach.

Under EPA's analysis as stated in its proposed rule documents, the Clean Power Plan will produce economic benefits far in excess of its costs.  In 2020, EPA projects the regional compliance approach would have total costs of $5 billion, climate benefits of approximately $17 billion, and health co-benefits associated with reduced particulate matter and other emissions -- mostly in the form of reduced premature fatalities -- of between $16 billion and $37 billion.  In this scenario, the Clean Power Plan would yield net economic benefits of between $28 billion and $47 billion by 2020.  EPA's analysis of a state-by-state approach yields similar costs and benefits: a cost of $7.5 billion by 2020, climate benefits of approximately $18 billion, and health co-benefits of between $17 billion and $40 billion.  Under either case, net benefits continue to grow through 2030, reaching between $48 billion and $84 billion.

EPA also projects "job gains and losses relative to base case for the electric generation, coal and natural gas production, and demand side energy efficiency sectors."  In 2020, EPA projects job growth of 25,900 to 28,000 job-years in the power production and fuel extraction sectors, and an increase of 78,000 jobs in the demand-side energy efficiency sector.

What the ultimate costs and benefits of the Clean Power Plan will be remains uncertain, as does EPA's adoption of a final rule implementing the plan.  In the meantime, electric generators, consumers, and policymakers are taking close looks at the plan to ascertain its impacts.

EPA proposes carbon goals for power plants

Monday, June 2, 2014

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed its plan to reduce carbon emissions from the nation's power plants by 30% below 2005 levels.

Stacks rise from the coal-fired Salem Harbor Station power plant, which closed on June 1, 2014.

Formally known as "Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units", EPA's proposed rule spans 645 pages (PDF).  The so-called Clean Power Plan builds on President Obama's 2013 Climate Action Plan, relying on the agency's authority under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act.  Generally, Section 111 provides for the establishment of nationwide emission standards for major stationary sources of air pollution such as power plants.  Current regulations limit power plants' emissions of arsenic, mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particle pollution, but there are currently no national limits on carbon pollution levels.

EPA's Clean Power Plan would, for the first time, provide federal regulation of power plants' carbon emissions.  EPA envisions a collaborative process through which federal limits are established for each state, but where states have the flexibility to identify their own path forward using either current or new electricity production and pollution control policies to meet the goals of the proposed program.  Each state's carbon emissions limit would be stated as a rate of allowable pounds of carbon emissions per megawatt-hour of electric energy generated.  EPA would set these rates based on a case-by-case evaluation of each state's energy mix -- including its portfolio of generation resources -- and EPA's evaluation of opportunities to reduce carbon emissions.

States would then be free to design a program to achieve those rates in a way that makes the most sense for each state's unique situation, combining diverse fuels, energy efficiency and demand-side management to create a tailored solution for each state. EPA also envisions collaboration among states, including the development of multi-state plans.  Some states have already organized collaborative programs to reduce the electric power sector's carbon emissions -- for example, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) program in the eastern states

If adopted, EPA's rule would require states to submit their plans to EPA for review in June 2016.  But EPA's plan is not yet final.  It first faces public comment through the summer, including public hearings during the week of July 28 in Denver, Atlanta, Washington, DC and Pittsburgh.  EPA anticipates finalizing its standards in June 2015.

Additional materials, including fact sheets and a regulatory analysis, are posted on the EPA's Clean Power Plan program website.