Monday, June 2, 2014

EPA proposal would leave it up to states to cut power plant emissions

Posted By on Mon, Jun 2, 2014 at 4:48 PM

Earlier today, the federal Environmental Protection Agency laid out its new plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. But there's a pretty good chance that some energy interests and lawmakers will try to either sue or legislate the proposed rules into oblivion.

The EPA is using a technical regulatory process to implement the rules, which it's calling the Clean Power Plan. The agency wants nationwide power sector emissions to be 30 percent lower than they were in 2005, and it wants that to happen by 2030, according to its press release on the proposal. Scientists say that drastic, global cuts in greenhouse gases will help avoid the worst effects of climate change.

But the agency is taking a nuanced approach, focused mainly at the state level. State governments will be responsible for meeting the reduction goals and they'll have several ways of doing so, according to an EPA fact sheet. They can invest in energy efficiency measures, emphasize new renewable energy generation capacity, or require old plants to be retrofitted with emissions reducing technology. But however they choose to go about it, the states would have to submit a plan to the EPA by June 2016.

The EPA will also let states join together to develop an emissions reduction plan. And this is where New York and other Northeastern states may have a leg up. They already have a regional power sector carbon emissions cap and trade program in place: the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, otherwise known as RGGI (and often said "Reggie"). Much of the proceeds from the program's carbon credit auctions are reinvested in energy efficiency projects, while a small chunk is invested in renewable energy technologies.

Coal power plants are the obvious target of the legislation, since they are heavy greenhouse gas emitters. But the new rules don't explicitly say that the plants need to be shut down. Instead, if states want to keep the plants running, they need to cut the emissions from somewhere else. And that may be something of an impossible task.

The rules also call for cuts in particle pollution and in emissions that encourage smog and ground-level ozone.

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