THE BLOG
10/31/2014 03:54 pm ET Updated Dec 31, 2014

NRDC's Initial Take on EPA's New Ideas that Could Strengthen or Weaken the Clean Power Plan's Carbon Pollution Limits

This summer and fall the EPA has continued its marathon stakeholder outreach and listening process on its Clean Power Plan to clean up dangerous carbon pollution. The supplemental notice and new ideas that EPA issued for public comment on October 28th reflect EPA's interest in hearing from all parties and getting the rule right. EPA also released a supplemental proposal to address carbon pollution from affected power plants in Indian Country and U.S. territories.

We'll continue pressing for the strongest carbon pollution standards to combat the threats posed by climate change.

Supplemental Notice

The supplemental notice asks for comment on a number of new ideas EPA has heard from stakeholders. As EPA acknowledges, some of those ideas could tighten the standard, while others could loosen it, and some combinations of these ideas could bring better balance among the states' targets. From NRDC's standpoint, some of ideas presented are very promising and others are potentially troubling.

We will fully investigate the implications of what EPA is proposing and address them in our final comments to EPA by December 1st.

EPA is requesting additional comment on the following topics (see NRDC summary of the EPA proposal for a description of the existing Building Blocks):
  • 2020-2029 Glide Path:
    • A phase-in of Building Block 1 (coal plant efficiency improvements); and
    • A phase-in of Building Block 2 (transition from coal to existing natural gas), based on natural gas infrastructure constraints or by constraining the decline in coal generation by the coal assets' book life.
  • Building Block Methodology:
    • Building Block 2: Adding repowering of coal to natural gas and new natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) as resources in addition to existing NGCC; the potential of a minimum assumed shift from older steam units to NGCC; rebalancing targets across states; and whether resources should be examined at the state level or regionally.
    • Building Block 3: Consideration of regionalizing the development of state renewable targets; what the regions should be; and how regional renewables resource should be apportioned to the states.
  • Goal Setting Equation:
    • Treat Building Blocks 3 & 4 in the Same Manner as Building Block 2: Have efficiency and renewables replace fossil generation in the formula by either offsetting older steam generation or average fossil.
    • Alternatives to the 2012 Data Year: should an alternative year be used or a combination of years, with data for 2010 and 2011 added to the docket.
The following are our high-level reactions to the new concepts and options EPA has raised:
  • These new concepts and options open the door to achieving greater equity and balance among the state targets, while achieving greater national emission reductions. In particular, EPA has identified ways to cost-effectively achieve greater emission reductions from coal-heavy states that were assigned weak targets under the June proposal. Of particular interest are the suggestions to account for under-utilized existing gas plants on a regional basis, rather than state-by-state, and to consider new gas plants and gas co-firing in coal plants. These options could yield more balanced and stronger state targets.
  • The notice also puts on the table revisions to the target-setting equation that would recognize the full emissions-reducing effect of increasing renewables and efficiency. Under the equation in the June proposal, increasing dispatch to gas correctly replaces megawatt-hours of coal generation. But new generation from renewables and energy savings from efficiency only add to, rather than replace, fossil generation. The new concept puts the Blocks 2, 3, and 4 resources on the same footing in the target equation.
  • The notice introduces a range of methods for calculating renewable energy goals, including regional approaches that would deliver more consistency across states.
  • Another potentially positive idea is consideration of multiple years of baseline data and possibly moving from 1- to a 3-year average for the baseline.
NRDC, however, is troubled by some of the new options:
  • The notice includes so-called "glide-path" options that would weaken or delay vitally needed near-term carbon pollution reductions promised by Blocks 1 and 2 under the proposal. The interim target in the Clean Power Plan is the lynchpin of the president's Climate Action Plan to achieve a 17 percent reduction in overall U.S. carbon pollution by 2020. In turn, that commitment is critical to U.S. credibility and leverage in negotiations for comparable action from China, India, and the world's other major carbon polluters. As our comments will show, there are plenty of options available to meet - indeed to strengthen - the 2020-2029 interim target proposed in June, as well as the target for 2030 and beyond.
Indian Country and U.S. Territories Supplemental Proposal

EPA's supplemental proposal for the Clean Power Plan affecting tribal lands requires more review, but it appears to miss an important opportunity to reduce carbon pollution. In particular, we will be looking to see how the concepts introduced in the Notice of Data Availability would apply to the plants in Tribal jurisdiction. On first read, the supplemental proposal requires almost no emissions reductions from some of the most polluting coal plants in the southwest, creating a huge loophole for the regional utilities that own and operate the facilities. Those utilities have the same opportunities that are available in all states to reduce or offset the emissions of these plants through increased utilization of low emissions and non-emitting resources. While we acknowledge the economic challenges many tribes face, this pollution loophole is particularly ironic because the largest owner of one of these facilities, the 2250MW Navajo Generating Station located in northern Arizona, is the federal government itself.

Conclusion

We are optimistic that EPA has put enough new ideas on the table that the agency can address concerns from states and other stakeholders while also delivering final state targets that, on an overall basis, are stronger than the proposal and that keep the U.S. in a leadership position addressing carbon pollution from the electric sector.

This post written with my colleague Derek Murrow.