epa ghg regulations
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
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.
- Brief: Modeling EPA's Clean Power Plan: Insights for Cost-Effective Implementation (May 2015)
- Report: Canadian Hydropower and the Clean Power Plan (April 2015)
- Infographic: Canadian Hydropower and the Clean Power Plan (April 2015)
- Blog: 5 Ideas for EPA's Clean Power Plan (December 2014)
- C2ES Comments on Proposed EPA Rule for Existing Power Plants (December 2014)
- Brief: Cross-State Electricity Load Reductions Under EPA's Proposed Clean Power Plan (November 2014)
- Cornerstone Article: Carbon Pollution Standards for New and Existing Power Plants and Their Impact on Carbon Capture and Storage (September 2014)
- Map: Energy efficiency in the Clean Power Plan (August 2014)
- 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 (Updated February 2015)
- Graphic: Policy options to reduce carbon emissions in the power sector (June 2014)
- Blog: EPA’s proposed carbon standard for power plants is stringent and flexible (June 2014)
- Event: Carbon Pricing: State and Federal Options (May 2014).
See video of the event, and relevant slides from Dallas Butraw, David Bookbinder, Brian Turner, and Jon Brekke
- C2ES Comments on Proposed EPA Rule for New Power Plants (May 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 (Updated February 2015)
- Blog: EPA’s Regulation of Greenhouse Gases: What are the Facts? (January 2011)
- Brief: Events Leading to Regulation of Greenhouse Gases under the Clean Air Act (March 2010)
- Jonas Monast et al., Enhancing Compliance Flexibility under the Clean Power Plan: A Common Elements Approach to Capturing Low-Cost Emissions Reductions (Durham, NC: Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, 2015).
- 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. November 15, 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|
*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.