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EPA Carbon Standards Announcement: A Potential Climate Game Changer

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Today I was fortunate to attend and hear EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy’s stirring speech announcing the EPA power plant carbon standards. And then dived into reading the 645-page rule plus numerous associated documents. I’m not quite done, but here are some first impressions.  The bottom line: the draft rule has many promising elements and there are opportunities to strengthen it as it moves toward finalization next June.

EPA hit it right on a number of key elements of the proposal:

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This post is part of a series on the EPA Clean Power Plan.

  1. The draft rule includes flexibility for states to devise compliance plans that best suit them, using four major building blocks to reduce CO2 emissions: efficiency (heat rate) improvements at individual plants, utilizing more lower-carbon generating sources like natural gas, utilizing zero carbon energy sources like renewable energy, and ramping up energy efficiency. In defining the ‘Best System of Emissions Reduction (BSER)’ for the purposes of complying with this rule, EPA suggested that a combination of all four compliance options would best meet the BSER criteria. This is the option that helps achieve the most reductions at the lowest cost, using options that are widely available today.
  2. EPA will also allow multi-state compliance plans so that states could join together to find the lowest cost compliance options. As Administrator McCarthy put it, “If states don’t want to go alone, they can hang out with other states.” And that’s already happening in the Northeast, with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which has helped nine states cut carbon emissions from their power plants by 40% reduction, with another ten percent reduction estimated by 2020.
  3. The flexibility in the proposal allows for the emissions reductions to be achieved cost-effectively without affecting reliability.  For example, the rule allows states to lower their emissions through energy efficiency measures that not only cut carbon, but lower energy bills because consumers use less electricity.

There’s also room for improvement in the draft rule:

  1. The analysis accompanying the draft rule seems to indicate that EPA has underestimated the true potential for renewable energy to contribute to cost-effective reductions. Ramping up renewables, which are already playing a growing role in our electricity supply because of their dramatically falling cost, is an opportunity across the nation that should be fully exploited.
  2. With a more ambitious—but do-able—assumption for renewable growth, the rule could be strengthened to achieve more than a 30% reduction.  UCS analysis shows that the power sector could achieve much deeper reductions, cutting power sector emissions in half from 2013 levels by 2030 (which is approximately 60% below 2005 levels by 2030). These reductions can be achieved cost-effectively and reliably with renewable energy and energy efficiency playing a significant role.  And some states, such as the RGGI states, have already achieved a 40% reduction from 2005 levels.

So I am gratified that President Obama and Administrator McCarthy are following through on their commitments, and sending a signal to the world that the United States is serious about taking action to avert the worse consequences of climate change.  But, I see opportunities to improve on this draft rule.  Stay tuned as my colleagues and I provide on-going analysis of the power plant carbon standard in the days to come. And in the months to come, don’t forget to voice your support for a strong carbon standard.

Posted in: Energy, Global Warming Tags: , , , ,

About the author: With more than 30 years of experience in government, environmental policy, and advocacy, Ken Kimmell joined UCS as president in May 2014. Prior to joining UCS, he served as the Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP). As commissioner, he served as chairman of the board of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), helping to prod the nine member states to reduce power plant carbon emissions by almost 50 percent through 2020, avoiding some 90 million tons of emissions in the region. See Ken's full bio.

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