carbon pollution standard
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed new limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants. Electric power generation is responsible for nearly 40 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions – making it the largest single source.
Reducing power sector emissions is a key part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which aims to reduce overall U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. His June 2013 presidential memorandum directed EPA to set standards for both new and existing plants.
In June 2014, EPA released a “Clean Power Plan” to limit carbon emissions from existing power plants. Under the rule, each state has its own target (due to regional variation in generation mix and electricity consumption), but overall the rule is designed to cut emissions 30 percent from 2005 emissions by 2030, with an interim target of 25 percent on average between 2020 and 2029. EPA is expected to finalize this rule by June 2015.
Previously, in September 2013, EPA released a “Carbon Pollution Standard for New Power Plants,” replacing a March 2012 proposal. EPA proposed standards for coal- and natural gas-fired plants (measured as tons of greenhouse gas emissions per megawatt-hour of electricity produced) that states would apply at each regulated plant. EPA is expected to finalize this rule later this year.
Explore the issues and options involved in EPA regulation of carbon pollution from power plants through the following resources.
- Map: Renewables in the Clean Power Plan (June 2014)
- Map: Proposed state emission rate targets (June 2014)
- Q&A on EPA Greenhouse Gas Standards for Existing Power Plants (June 2014)
- Graphic: Policy options to reduce carbon emissions in the power sector (June 2014)
- C2ES President Eileen Claussen's Statement on EPA's Carbon Emissions Standard for Power Plants (June 2014)
- Blog: EPA’s proposed carbon standard for power plants is stringent and flexible (June 2, 2014)
- Event: Carbon Pricing: State and Federal Options (May 22, 2014). See video of the event, and relevant slides from Dallas Butraw, David Bookbinder, Brian Turner, and Jon Brekke
- Blog: What to Watch in EPA's Power Plant Carbon Emissions Proposal (May 16, 2014)
- Brief: Carbon Pollution Standards for Existing Power Plants: Key Challenges (May 2014)
- Brief: Carbon Pollution Standards for Existing Power Plants: Issues and Options (March 2014)
- Q&A on EPA Greenhouse Gas Standards for New Power Plants (November 2013)
- C2ES President Eileen Claussen's statement on Proposed EPA Rule for New Power Plants
- C2ES Comments on Proposed EPA Rule for New Power Plants
- Brief: Events Leading to Regulation of Greenhouse Gases under the Clean Air Act (March 2010)
- Blog: EPA’s Regulation of Greenhouse Gases: What are the Facts? (January 6, 2011)
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Carbon Pollution Standards webpage.
- Presidential Memorandum – Power Sector Carbon Pollution Standards
- Megan Ceronsky and Tomas Carbonell, Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act: The Legal Foundation for Strong, Flexible & Cost-Effective Carbon Pollution Standards for Existing Power Plants (Washington, DC: Environmental Defense Fund, 2013).
- Samuel D. Eisenberg, Michael Wara, Adele Morris, Marta R. Darby and Joel Minor, A State Tax Approach to Regulating Greenhouse Gases Under the Clean Air Act (Washington, DC: Climate and Clean Energy Economics Project at Brookings, 2014).
- Georgetown Climate Center, Carbon Pollution Standards for Existing Power Plants: State Opportunities and Potential Benefits (Washington, DC: Georgetown Climate Center, 2013).
- Daniel Lashof et al., Closing the Power Plant Carbon Pollution Loophole: Smart Ways the Clean Air Act Can Clean Up America’s Biggest Climate Polluters (Washington, DC: Natural Resource Defense Council, 2013).
- Daniel Lashof and Starla Yeh, Cleaner and Cheaper: Using the Clean Air Act to Sharply Reduce Carbon Pollution from Existing Power Plants, Delivering Health, Environmental, and Economic Benefits (Washington, DC: Natural Resource Defense Council, 2014).
- Jonas Monast et al., Regulating Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Existing Sources: Section 111(d) and State Equivalency, 42 Environmental Law Reporter 10206 (Washington, DC: Environmental Law Institute, 2012).
- James McCarthy, “EPA Standards for Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Power Plants: Many Questions, Some Answers.” Congressional Research Service (CRS). R43127. June 26, 2013.
- Stephen Munro, EPA's Clean Power Plan: 50 chefs stir the pot (Washington, DC: Bloomberg New Energy Finance, 2014).
- National Conference of State Legislatures, States Reactions to Proposed EPA Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards webpage.
- Conrad Schneider, Power Switch: An Effective, Affordable Approach to Reducing Carbon Pollution from Existing Fossil-Fueled Power Plants (Boston, MA: Clean Air Task Force, 2014).
- Robert Sussman, Power Plant Regulation under the Clean Air Act: A Breakthrough Moment for US Climate Policy? (Charlottesville, VA: Virginia Environmental Law Journal, 2014).
- Jeremy M. Tarr, Jonas Monast, and Tim Profeta, Regulating Carbon Dioxide under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act: Options, Limits, and Impacts (Durham, NC: Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, 2013).
- Gregory E. Wannier et al., Prevailing Academic View on Compliance Flexibility under § 111 of the Clean Air Act, RFF Discussion Paper 11-29 (Washington, DC: Resources for the Future, 2011).
In its proposed Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the power sector, EPA has set a unique target emissions rate for each state to hit by 2030. To develop this target, EPA first determined a carbon emissions baseline (using 2012 data) based on each state’s level of CO2 emissions from fossil-fired power plants divided by its total electricity generation (including fossil-fired generation, renewable generation, and nuclear generation). Targets for 2030 were then established based on the capacity of each state to achieve reductions using the following four “building blocks” identified by EPA:
- Make coal-fired power plants more efficient;
- Use low-emitting natural gas combined cycle plants more where excess capacity is available;
- Use more zero- and low-emitting power sources such as renewables and nuclear; and
- Reduce electricity demand by using electricity more efficiently.
Since there is a wide variation among states in both emissions baseline and capacity to leverage each of the four building blocks, there is a wide variation in how much each state must cut from current emissions to hit its 2030 target emissions rate. (See Table 1.)
Each state can meet its established target however it sees fit, and does not need to leverage each building block to the extent that EPA projects. States will be able to convert their target emissions rate (pounds CO2 per megawatt-hour of electricity generated) to a mass-based standard (tons of CO2 emitted per year) to enable a cap-and-trade program. States are also free to join together and work toward an aggregated regional target.
Table 1: Building Block Reduction by State
|State||Emissions Rate of Power System, including zero-carbon generation (lbs CO2 / MWh) (2012||Block 1 (Coal-plant Efficiency)||Adding Block 2 (Natural Gas Fuel Switching)||Adding Block 3 (Renewable and Nuclear Generation)||Final Target by Adding Block 4 (Demand-side Energy Efficiency)||Total Emissions Reduction Target by 2030|
|Vermont||No affected sources|
Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Technical Support Document (TSD) for the CAA Section 111(d) Emission Guidelines for Existing Power Plants: Goal Computation, Appendix 5.