epa ghg regulations

Climate Action Plan making progress on all fronts

Two years after President Obama announced his Climate Action Plan, the administration has taken at least initial steps on all 75 of its goals, according to a new C2ES status report.

The Climate Action Plan aims to reduce overall U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. While some steps in the plan are simple and within existing policies and programs, achieving some of the plan’s goals will require a transformation of the U.S. energy system over a period that will outlast President Obama’s time in office.

Federal and state measures beyond those in the plan will be needed to achieve the U.S. pledge to achieve a 26 to 28 percent reduction in U.S. emissions by 2025 as part of the effort to reach an international climate agreement.

The Climate Action Plan, announced June 25, 2013, outlines goals in three areas: cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, preparing the United States for the impacts of climate change, and leading international efforts to address climate change. With Congress unlikely to enact major climate legislation in the near term, the Climate Action Plan relies almost entirely on steps the administration can take under existing laws.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has already proposed rules to limit carbon pollution from the No. 1 source – power plants – which account for almost a third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Rules for new and existing power plants are expected to be finalized this summer.

The administration also has taken significant steps to reduce emissions from the second largest source, the transportation sector, with new fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks and proposed standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks built after model year 2018. The regulatory process to reduce emissions from commercial aircraft has also started.

The administration is also addressing two highly potent greenhouse gases, HFCs and methane. EPA issued final rules to expand the number of acceptable alternatives to HFCs and is directing federal agency purchasing toward more climate-friendly alternatives. EPA released a methane strategy last year and has proposed steps to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, agriculture, new and existing landfills, and coal mines.

The United States is also on target to double its renewable energy use from President Obama’s first term through 2020, a commitment in the plan.

On the second pillar of the plan, making communities and infrastructure more resilient to climate change impacts, 38 federal agencies have released Climate Change Adaptation Plans outlining how they’ll address climate impacts to their missions and operations. But only initial progress has been made on increasing the climate resilience of federal buildings and infrastructure. A state, local, and tribal leaders task force recommended ways the government could modernize programs and policies to incorporate climate change.

On the third pillar of the plan, strengthening U.S. climate leadership internationally, the administration has made climate change a top priority in bilateral talks with China and India and in the negotiations to achieve a new global climate agreement in Paris by the end of the year. In April, the United States became one of the first countries to formally submit its intended contribution to the agreement.

There has been and will continue to be political pushback against climate action from opponents in Congress and some states. The administration has pledged $3 billion for the Green Climate Fund to help developing countries advance clean energy sources and prepare for climate impacts, but it’s unclear how much Congress will provide. And a few states have said they won’t submit implementation plans to reduce power plant emissions under the Clean Power Plan.

Many cities, states, and businesses recognize that climate impacts are real and have costs. They’re already in action to improve efficiency, promote clean energy, and invest in resilient infrastructure. They can point the way toward a sustainable future.

But we will need continued leadership at the federal level to reduce the emissions causing climate change, to prepare for climate impacts, and to rally other nations to action.

Carbon Pollution Standards

Carbon Pollution Standards

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Power Plan, proposed in June 2014, would limit 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.

Under the Clean Power Plan for existing power plants, each state has its own target (due to regional variation in generation mix and electricity consumption). 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.

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 will issue the finalize rules for the Clean Power Plan for existing power plants and the Carbon Pollution Standard for New Power Plants in the summer of 2015.

Explore the issues and options involved in EPA regulation of carbon pollution from power plants through the following resources.

C2ES Resources

External Resources

Carbon Pollution Standards Map

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:

  1. Make coal-fired power plants more efficient;
  2. Use low-emitting natural gas combined cycle plants more where excess capacity is available;
  3. Use more zero- and low-emitting power sources such as renewables and nuclear; and
  4. 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

StateEmissions 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
South Carolina15871506134286677251.4%
New Hampshire90588771053248646.3%
New York97897082865254943.9%
New Jersey92891681161653142.8%
North Carolina164715601248112599239.8%
South Dakota*1135106773290074134.7%
New Mexico1586151312771163104833.9%
West Virginia2019189818981687162019.8%
Rhode Island90790790786778213.8%
North Dakota1994187518751865178310.6%
VermontNo affected sources

*In the cases of Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, and South Dakota, the emission rate rises when building block three is added. The 2012 renewable generation levels in these states were higher than what EPA's methodology projects for 2030, meaning EPA assumes lower renewable generation, and therefore higher emission rates, for these states in 2030. These increases in emission rates are reflected by negative percentage changes for the effect of building block three when you click on these states in the map above.

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.

C2ES Carbon Pollution Standards Resource Page

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