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EPA Regulation of Greenhouse Gas Emissions from New Power Plants

This page discusses EPA's proposed standards for new power plants issued on Sept. 30, 2013. For a discussion of the standards for existing power plants, released on June 2, 2014, click here.

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a new proposal to limit greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants on September 20, 2013. The proposed “Carbon Pollution Standard for New Power Plants” replaces an earlier proposal released by EPA in March 2012. It would establish New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) under the Clean Air Act to limit emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) from coal- and natural gas-fired power plants. C2ES submitted public comments in response to this proposed rule, which can be found here. Under a June 2013 directive from President Obama, EPA is also developing a proposal to limit carbon emissions from existing power plants.

Why is regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from power plants important?

Electric power generation is responsible for about 40 percent of U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas.

Figure 1: 2012 U.S. CO2 Emissions

Source: Energy Information Administration

Since the federal government adopted new vehicle standards in August 2012 to reduce transportation-related emissions, the power sector represents the next opportunity to achieve significant carbon reductions.

Coal and natural gas are used to fuel over two-thirds of U.S. electricity generation, and are responsible for nearly 100 percent of power sector CO2 emissions. As shown in Figure 2, the United States currently obtains 30 percent of its electricity from natural gas. Since 2000, however, natural gas has accounted for over 90 percent of new fossil generation capacity, and most new generation planned for the next few years will be fueled by natural gas.

There are two new U.S. coal plants currently under construction: Southern Company’s Kemper Plant, which will employ carbon capture and storage (CCS) and a combined heat and power (CHP) plant that would likely not be subject to the proposed EPA standard.

Figure 2: 2012 U.S. Electricity Generation

Source: Energy Information Administration

Figure 3: Proposed U.S. Fossil Generation Capacity

Source: Energy Information Administration

How would the standards work?

New Source Performance Standards set limits on emissions based on EPA’s assessment of available technologies. As with many other Clean Air Act programs, EPA establishes a standard for a given category of facility, which state environmental agencies then translate into requirements for individual facilities.

EPA’s proposed "Carbon Pollution Standard for New Power Plants" was developed under Section 111(b) of the Clean Air Act. Section 111(b) calls for a standard that "reflects the degree of emissions limitation achievable through the application of the best system of emissions reduction which (taking into account the cost of achieving such reduction and any non-air quality health and environmental impact and energy requirements) the Administrator determines has been adequately demonstrated." The emissions limit must take the form of a standard – in the case of power plants, maximum allowable CO2 emissions per unit of electricity – and may not prescribe a particular technology.

The Act ostensibly requires EPA to review the technological options available and, if appropriate, establish a new standard every eight years. In practice, standards have typically remained unexamined and unchanged for much longer than eight years, often because of resource constraints at EPA.

What does the standard require?

The proposed rules would set separate standards for power plants fueled by natural gas and coal. New, large plants (roughly 100 MW or larger) fueled by natural gas could emit no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity produced, which is achievable with the latest combined cycle technology. Smaller natural gas plants, which tend to be less efficient and operate less frequently, would have to achieve a less stringent rate of 1,100 lbs CO2/MWh. Coal plants would have two compliance options, either of which would require the use of CCS technology. Under one option, coal plants would have to begin using CCS soon after startup to achieve a 12-month average emission rate of 1,100 lbs CO2/MWh. Alternatively, coal plants could begin using CCS within seven years of startup to achieve a seven-year average emission rate of between 1,000 and 1,050 lbs CO2/MWh, with EPA inviting comment as to the final standard within that range. CCS is in use at a commercial-scale power plant in Saskatchewan, Canada, and will be employed at two commercial-scale power projects under construction in Kemper County, Mississippi and in Thompsons, Texas. CCS technology is also in place in several industrial facilities, some of which generate as much carbon dioxide as a commercial-scale power plant.

A handful of states already have greenhouse gas limits in place for electricity generation. California, Oregon, and Washington all have limits of 1,100 lbs CO2/MWh. New York has a stricter limit of 925 lbs CO2/MWh. If finalized, EPA’s proposed standard would supersede the standards in California, Oregon, and Washington, while New York would be able to maintain its stricter standard since the Clean Air Act allows states to go beyond the federal standard.

What are the costs associated with the proposed standards?

EPA expects this standard to have negligible costs through 2022 (the intended time horizon of the standard), since very few new coal plants are planned, even without the proposed standard, and since developers of new natural gas plants should see minimal, if any, additional costs.

If a developer chooses to build a new coal plant, the proposed standards could add considerable costs to the project because it will have to employ CCS technology. Since CCS technology is so new, especially for power plant applications, its costs are still high. However, as with any new technology, costs will come down as developers gain experience and new innovations are made.

What effect is this proposal expected to have on carbon dioxide emissions?

In the near future, the proposed standard is expected to have very little impact on emissions because so few new coal plants would likely be built even without the standard. Nearly all new fossil-fuel power plants in the planning stages will be fueled by natural gas, using generation technology that should be able to comply with EPA’s proposed standards without any alterations. Power plant developers already have strong incentive to use the most efficient technology to maximize the amount of electricity that can be generated from each unit of fuel.

If a developer chooses to build a new coal plant, the requirement that the plant install CCS technology within seven years will drastically reduce its emissions. Increased deployment of CCS technology at power plants will very likely drive CCS costs down and make it a more viable option at other new coal plants. Through experience and innovation, CCS costs may come down enough to be viable on new natural gas power plants, or as retrofits on existing coal plants, to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector even further.

How is this different from the standard EPA proposed in 2012?

EPA’s first proposal for limiting carbon emissions from new power plants was released on March 27, 2012. Under that proposal, all new power plants would have been subject to a uniform standard: 1,000 lbs CO2/MWh. Under this standard, new coal plants would have been possible only if CCS technology were employed to capture an average of about 50 percent of CO2 emissions over 30 years. However, EPA viewed combined cycle natural gas plants as the primary compliance pathway because it did not project a demand for any new coal plants in the near future regardless.

Many of the public comments received by EPA on its initial proposal objected to the unprecedented use of a single standard for both coal- and natural gas-fired plants. EPA has responded in its new proposal by including a separate standard for each fuel. However, since CCS would still be required for new coal plants, the net effect of the new proposal would be similar.

What can power plants do to reduce emissions?

New natural gas plants can reach the proposed CO2 standard by employing the most efficient generation technology. In older steam turbine plants, natural gas is combusted to heat water, which creates steam to turn a turbine and generate electricity. These plants have thermal efficiencies of 30-35 percent, meaning about one third of the chemical energy stored in natural gas is converted to electricity. In contrast, new combined cycle combustion turbines more effectively take advantage of the energy in natural gas to operate with a thermal efficiency above 60 percent.

New coal plants, on the other hand, cannot achieve the proposed standard through efficiency alone. The most efficient type of coal plants, using ultra-supercritical boilers or integrated gasification combined cycle technology, can currently achieve a CO2 emission rate of around 1,700 lbs/MWh. Thus new coal plants can only meet the standard through the use of CCS, which traps CO2 exiting the plant, transports it, and injects it into an underground geological formation for permanent storage. New plants can either begin using CCS soon after startup, or begin using it later to reach a seven-year average emission rate between 1,000 and 1,050 lbs CO2/MWh, which would require the capture of about 40 percent of CO2 emissions. EPA is inviting comment on the appropriate point within this range to set the standard.

If new coal plants must use carbon capture and storage technology, what will that mean for the future of coal? How far along is CCS technology?

Even if EPA were not moving forward with this standard, very few new coal plants would likely be built, in large part because of the availability of affordable natural gas. The Energy Information Administration lists only four potential coal plants between now and 2018, compared with more than 200 expected natural gas plants.

Today, there are 13 active commercial-scale CCS projects at industrial plants around the world (eight of them in the United States). The world’s first commercial-scale CCS power plant – the Boundary Dam Power Station in Saskatchewan, Canada – has been in operation since late 2014. Two additional commercial-scale power plants with CCS are under construction. Southen Company's Kempter County Energy Facility in Mississippi is expected to come online in late 2015 or early 2016, while NRG Energy's Petra Nove project in Texas is expected to come online in 2017. All three projects are coal-fired. 

Approximately 50 additional commercial-scale CCS projects in the power and industrial sectors are in various stages of development around the world. Learn more about the status of CCS technology here.

How would existing state policies, such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, be affected?

The proposed standard for new power plants would likely be layered on top of existing state programs. For example, a new plant operating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) territory would have to achieve the proposed federal standard, and would also have to submit tradable emission allowances annually to comply with the requirements of RGGI.

How does this proposal relate to EPA’s work on a standard for existing power plants?

Section 111 of the Clean Air Act requires EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from new and existing power plants under two separate but related provisions. Section 111(b) requires EPA to set emission performance standards for new, modified, and reconstructed power plants, while Section 111(d) requires EPA to set guidelines for existing power plants. The guidelines for existing power plants cannot be finalized until a final standard is in place for new power plants.

Section 111(b) vests relatively more authority in EPA, and is more straightforward. EPA is required to find emission-reduction technology that has been adequately demonstrated and use this to set federal, numerical performance standards that new power plants must meet. These Section 111(b) standards are implemented by the states, as are most EPA air rules, but states do not have much flexibility to alter the standards set by EPA. On the other hand, under Section 111(d), states have greater flexibility in how they implement the EPA standard. For instance, Section 111(d) allows for the possibility of market-based mechanisms to reduce emissions system-wide, rather than focusing on individual power plants.

How long will it take EPA to finalize this standard?

President Obama’s June 2013 memo to EPA directed the agency to propose standard for new power plants by September 2013, but did not set a deadline for finalizing the standard. Federal agencies typically have a year to finalize proposed regulations.

EPA must finalize the standard for new power plants before it can finalize its guidelines for existing power plants. EPA's current timeline notes that both rules will be finalized in the summer of 2015.

Under what authority is EPA regulating greenhouse gas emissions?

EPA is required by the Clean Air Act to develop and enforce regulations on greenhouse gases, much in the way it regulates other air pollutants. This authority was clarified in the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Massachusetts v. EPA (2007). The decision was a result of 12 states petitioning EPA to regulate greenhouse gases from new motor vehicles in 1999. The Supreme Court ruled that greenhouse gases meet the definition of air pollutants under the Clean Air Act and must be regulated if these gases could be reasonably anticipated to endanger public health or welfare. Responding to the Court’s ruling, EPA finalized an endangerment finding in December 2009. Based on overwhelming scientific evidence it found that six greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, constitute a threat to public health and welfare. Thus, it is the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the existing Act and EPA’s assessment of the scientific evidence that form the basis for EPA’s regulatory actions.

Once any substance becomes a regulated pollutant under the Clean Air Act, certain other provisions of the Act automatically kick in. Greenhouse gases first became regulated under the Act with EPA’s rule setting new standards for light-duty vehicles. This, in turn, triggered the requirement that major new or modified stationary sources be subject to a handful of Clean Air Act provisions, including Section 111(b).

Has EPA regulated greenhouse gas emissions before?

Yes. In addition to its existing greenhouse gas standards for new light duty vehicles, EPA regulates greenhouse gas emissions from new, large stationary sources through a process called New Source Review (NSR). If a new emissions source, including a power plant, will emit above a certain threshold, it must acquire a permit to emit greenhouse gas. This permit will include a requirement that the source employ the Best Available Control Technology (BACT) to ensure it will take all feasible steps available to limit greenhouse gas emissions. BACT is set on a source-specific basis, and so far EPA has determined BACT for greenhouse gas emissions from power plants to be efficiency improvements. Once EPA’s proposed NSPS is finalized, new power plants will have to comply with both this NSPS and NSR, as well as other permitting requirements already in place.

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Bills of the 114th Congress Concerning Climate Change

Carbon Capture and Storage or Enhanced Oil Recovery

S.AMDT.99: Would amend S.AMDT.2 to S.1. This amendment articulates a sense of Congress that Congress is in agreement with the scientific community, national security experts, and others, that climate change is real, climate change is caused by human activity, and that it is imperative that the United States invests in research and development for clean fossil fuel technology. Sponsor: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) (introduced 1/22/2015). Action: 1/22/2015 Agreed in the Senate 53-46 to table the amendment.

Climate Change Adaptation

H.R.70: Deficit Reduction, Job Creation, and Energy Security Act
This bill would establish various grants, including a National Grant Program for Coastal and Ocean Sustainability and Health. It would direct funds to be used for coastal management planning and implementation mitigation, restoration, protection, and relocation of coastal communities threatened by the impacts of climate change. Sponsor: Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee (D-TX) (introduced 1/6/2015).

H.R.258: Half in Ten Act of 2015
Of relevance, the bill articulates a Congressional finding that individuals and families in poverty are more socially vulnerable to natural disasters, extreme weather and impacts of climate change and have greater difficulty preparing for, responding to and recovering from such events. Sponsor: Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) (introduced 1/9/15).

H.R.291: Water in the 21st Century Act
Of relevance, this bill would create a grant program within EPA for local owners or operators of water systems to address any ongoing or forecasted climate-related impacts on the water quality of quantity of a region, for the purposes of mitigating or adapting to the impacts of climate change. Sponsor: Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA) (introduced 1/13/2015). Related Bill(s): S.176.

H.R.761: Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument Act
Of relevance, the bill would require that plans to manage and conserve the land also assess the impacts of climate change on the conservation area. Sponsor: Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) (introduced 2/5/2015).

S.176: Water in the 21st Century Act
Of relevance, this bill would create a grant program within EPA for local owners or operators of water systems to address any ongoing or forecasted climate-related impacts on the water quality of quantity of a region, for the purposes of mitigating or adapting to the impacts of climate change. Sponsor: Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) (introduced 1/13/2015). Related Bill(s): H.R.291.

S.AMDT.115: Would amend S.AMDT.2 to S.1. Of relevance, this amendment articulates a sense of Congress that climate change is already affecting critical U.S. infrastructure, the federal government has a crucial role to play in partnering with states, localities, and tribal jurisdictions to help ensure coordinated efforts to keep communities resilient, and federal agencies should quantify the economic value of the physical risks from climate change. Sponsor: Sen. Christopher Coons (D-DE) (introduced 1/22/2015). Action: 1/28/2015 Failed in the Senate 47-51.

S.AMDT.174: Would amend S.AMDT.2 to S.1. This amendment articulates a sense of Congress that the United States should prioritize and fund adaptation projects in vulnerable communities in the United States while also helping to fund climate change adaptation and mitigation in developing countries. Sponsor: Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) (introduced 1/26/2015).

Climate Science

H.Res.67: Expressing support for designation of February 12, 2015, as "Darwin Day" and recognizing the importance of science in the betterment of humanity
Of relevance, this bill would recognize that the advancement of science must be protected from those unconcerned with the adverse impacts of global warming and climate change. Sponsor: Rep. James Himes (D-CT) (introduced 2/2/2015). Related Bill(s): S.Res.66.

S.Res.66: Expressing support for designation of February 12, 2015, as "Darwin Day" and recognizing the importance of science in the betterment of humanity
Of relevance, this bill would recognize that the advancement of science must be protected from those unconcerned with the adverse impacts of global warming and climate change. Sponsor: Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) (introduced 2/4/2015). Related Bill(s): H.Res.67.

S.AMDT.24: Would amend S.AMDT.2 to S.1. This amendment articulate a sense of Congress that climate change is real. Sponsor: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (introduced 1/13/2015). Action: 1/21/2015 Agreed in the Senate 56-42 to table the amendment.

S.AMDT.29: Would amend S.AMDT.2 to S.1. This amendment articulates a sense of the Senate that climate change is real and not a hoax. During floor debate of the amendment, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) said he would co-sponsor the amendment, and said that the climate is changing, climate change is a hoax among some people are arrogant enough to think humans are powerful enough to change the climate, and that man cannot change the climate. Sen. Inhofe asked fellow Republicans to vote for the amendment. Sponsor: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) (introduced 1/13/2015). Action: 1/21/2015 Agreed in the Senate 98-1.

S.AMDT.58: Would amend S.AMDT.2 to S.1. This amendment articulates a sense of Congress that climate change is real and that human activity significantly contributes to climate change. Sponsor: Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) (introduced 1/20/2015). Action: 1/21/2015 Failed in the Senate 50-49.

S.AMDT.87: Would amend S.AMDT.2 to S.1. This amendment articulates a sense of Congress that the Keystone XL pipeline will produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions than alternative methods such as rail, approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project is unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction of oil sands or the use of heavy crude oil at U.S. refineries, and that climate change is real and human activity contributes to climate change. Sponsor: Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) (introduced 1/21/2015). Action: 1/21/2015 Failed in the Senate 59-40.

Curbing Climate Action

H.R.348: RAPID Act
Of relevance, this bill would prohibit agencies from using the social cost of carbon in any environmental review or environmental decision-making process. Sponsor: Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) (introduced 1/14/2015).

S.156: Energy Consumers Relief Act of 2015
Of relevance, the bill would prohibit the use of the social cost of carbon (i.e., any estimate that monetizes the damages associated with an incremental increase in carbon dioxide emissions in an given year) in the cost-benefit analysis of energy-related regulations with an estimated cost greater than $1 billion until a law is enacted authorizing such use. Sponsor: Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) (introduced 1/13/2015).

Energy Efficiency

S.128: Energy Efficiency Improvement Act of 2015
This bill would facilitate better alignment, cooperation, and best practices between commercial real estate landlords and tenants regarding energy efficiency in buildings. Sponsor: Rob Portman (R-OH) (introduced 1/8/2015).

S.AMDT.3: Would amend S.AMDT.2 to S.1. This amendment would facilitate better alignment, cooperation, and best practices between commercial real estate landlords and tenants regarding energy efficiency in buildings. Sponsor: Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) (introduced 1/13/2015). Action: 1/20/2015 Agreed in the Senate 94-5.

International

H.R. 222: To prohibit the Export-Import Bank of the United States from providing financial support for certain high carbon intensity energy projects
Refer to title for summary. Sponsor: Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) (introduced 1/8/2015).

H.R.383: No Tax Dollars for the United Nations' Climate Agenda Act
This bill would prohibit United States contributions to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), or the Green Climate Fund. Sponsor: Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO) (introduced 1/14/2015).

H.R.597: Reform Exports and Expand the American Economy Act
Of relevance, this bill would extend suspension of the Export-Import Bank from providing financial support from certain high carbon intensity projects through September 30, 2019. Sponsor: Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN) (introduced 1/28/2015).

H.CON.RES.6: Expressing the sense of Congress that the United States should provide, on an annual basis, an amount equal to at least one percent of United States gross domestic product (GDP) for nonmilitary foreign assistance programs.
Of relevance, this bill articulates a sense of Congress of the importance of contributing to global efforts that combat climate change. Sponsor: Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) (introduced 1/9/2015).

S.AMDT.78: Would amend S.AMDT.2 to S.1. This amendment articulates a sense of the Senate that the United States should not agree to any bilateral or other international agreements on greenhouse gas emissions that imposes disproportionate and economically commitments to the United States. Sponsor: Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) (introduced 1/13/2015). Action: 1/22/2015 Failed in the Senate 51-46.

S.66: A bill to prohibit any regulation regarding carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gas emissions reduction in the United States until China, India, and Russia implement similar reductions.
Refer to title for summary. Sponsor: Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) (introduced 1/7/2015).

Keystone XL

H.R.3: Keystone XL Pipeline Act
This will would approve the Keystone XL pipeline. Sponsor: Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) (introduced 1/6/2015). Action: 1/9/15 Passed in the House by a vote of 266-153. Related Bill(s): S.1.

S.1: Keystone XL Pipeline Approval Act
This will would approve the Keystone XL pipeline. During debate on the bill, the following amendments were added that pertain to climate change: SAmdt.3, SAmdt.24, SAmdt.29, SAmdt.58, SAmdt.99, and SAmdt.174. Sponsor: Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) (introduced 1/6/2015). Action 1/29/15 Passed in the Senate by a vote of 62-36. Related Bill(s): H.R.3.

Non-CO2 Greenhouse Gases

H.R.508: SUPER Act of 2015
This bill would create a task force to review existing policies and develop best practices aimed at combating significant drivers of global climate change. This task force would find gaps and overlaps among the already existing efforts of multiple levels of government and coalesce them in order to achieve super pollutant reductions. Super pollutants include black carbon, methane, hydrofluorocarbons, tropospheric ozone and its precursors, and emissions from banks of ozone-depleting substances. Sponsor: Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA) (introduced 1/22/2015).

Other Climate Action

H.R.201: Community Parks Revitalization Act
This bill would authorize the Secretary of House and Urban Development to establish a program enabling communities to leverage resources to invest in parks, recreational areas, facilities and programs, and other purposes. Of relevance, the Secretary will coordinate with federal and state agencies that administer programs, such as climate change, green jobs, natural resource management, and voluntary actions. Sponsor: Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ) (introduced 1/7/2015). Related Bill(s): H.R.199.

S.268: Rebuild America Act of 2015
Of relevance, this bill would establish eligibility criteria for transportation and energy infrastructure projects, such as reducing carbon emissions, to receive financial assistance from the National Infrastructure Development Bank. Sponsor: Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-VT) (introduced 1/27/2015).

Pricing Carbon

H.R.309: Gas Tax Replacement Act of 2015
This bill would replace the gas tax with a carbon tax on gas and diesel fuels. Sponsors: Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) (introduced 1/13/2015).

H.R.972: Managed Carbon Price Act of 2015
This bill would amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 by requiring a federal emission permit for the sale or use of a fossil fuel or greenhouse gas and returning the funds to taxpayers. Sponsors: Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) (introduced 2/13/2015).

H.R.1027: Healthy Climate and Family Security Act of 2015
This bill would require the first sellers of oil, coal, and natural gas into the U.S. market to purchase carbon emission permits at auction, and would return the funds to taxpayers. Sponsors: Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) (introduced 2/24/2015).

S. CON.RES.1: A concurrent resolution expressing the sense of Congress that a Carbon tax is not in the economic interest of the United States.
Refer to title for summary. Sponsor: Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) (introduced 1/7/2015).

Transportation

H.R.198: MOVE Freight Act of 2015
This bill would establish a national freight network, composed of highways, railways, navigable waterways, seaports, airports, freight intermodal connectors, and aerotropolis transportation systems most critical to the multimodal movement of freight with the goal of improving the efficiency of the system. This would include providing competitive grants and planning assistance. Of particular relevance, in determining whether to award a grant, the Secretary of Transportation must consider the extent to which the project reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Sponsor: Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ) (introduced 1/7/2015).

H.R.614: SAVE Act
Of relevance, this bill would establish requirements for U.S. Postal Service fleet vehicles that at a minimum, meet EPA greenhouse gas vehicle standards and NHTSA fuel economy standards. Sponsor: Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-FL) (introduced 1/28/2015).

H.R.679: To establish a Road Usage Charge Pilot Program to study mileage-based fee systems, and for other purposes
Of relevance, this bill would require the Treasury Secretary, in consultation with the Secretary of Transportation, to establish a working group to evaluate the road usage charge pilot program. Criteria for the working group includes elevating the potential of methods to manage demand and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Sponsor: Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) (introduced 2/3/2015).

H.R.779: Northern Virginia Metrorail Extension Act
Of relevance, the bill articulates a congressional finding that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro) takes 580,000 cars off the road each day, eliminates the need for 1,400 lane miles of highway, reduces gas consumption by 75 million gallons annually, and eliminates more than 10,000 tons of greenhouse gases annually. Sponsor: Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA) (introduced 2/5/2015).

Reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is pursuing regulatory and voluntary steps to reduce methane emissions from the oil and natural gas production system, the largest manmade source of this potent greenhouse gas.

On January 14, 2015, EPA announced a goal to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 – 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025. As part of achieving this goal, it will release proposed regulations under Section 111(b) of the Clean Air Act in the summer for new and modified sources of methane emissions from the oil and natural gas sector.

EPA also plans to work collaboratively with industry and states, including expanding its voluntary Natural Gas Star program, to reduce methane from existing oil and gas operations.

Steps to reduce methane from other sources, such as landfills and coal mines, are also part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.

What is methane?

Methane, or CH4, is the main component of natural gas. When combusted as fuel, natural gas produces half as much carbon dioxide emissions as coal, and one third less than oil (per unit of energy produced). However, natural gas that is released into the atmosphere without being combusted is a potent greenhouse gas.

Why is it important to reduce methane emissions?

Methane is the second biggest driver of climate change. It is much more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2) at increasing the atmosphere’s heat-trapping ability, but it remains in the atmosphere a much shorter time (a little more than a decade compared with hundreds of years for CO2).

Averaged over a 100-year time frame, the warming potential of methane is about 21 times stronger than that of CO2. However, in a 20-year time frame, it is 72 times more potent. (The most recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change raises estimates of the global warming potential of methane to 34 times stronger than CO2 for the 100-year time frame, and 86 for the 20-year time frame. However the earlier estimates are still used to maintain comparability among U.S. Greenhouse Gas Inventory reports.)

Because methane is potent and short-lived, reducing methane emissions can have a more immediate benefit, and is especially important at a time of growing U.S. oil and natural gas production.

What are the primary sources of methane emissions in the United States?

Natural gas and petroleum systems are the largest emitters of methane in the U.S., according to EPA estimates. These emissions come from intentional and unintentional releases.

Agriculture, solid waste landfills, and coal mines are also major sources and are addressed by other EPA programs.

Figure 1: 2012 U.S. Methane Emissions, By Source

In 2012, U.S. methane emissions totaled 567 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.

Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Draft Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2012” (Washington, DC: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2014), http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/usinventoryreport.html.

How much methane is released in oil and natural gas production and how will this announcement improve the accuracy of measurements?

Methane is released unintentionally and intentionally from oil and gas systems. According to EPA, natural gas and petroleum systems were responsible for 29 percent of methane emissions in 2012. The rate of methane emissions from the sector has decreased in recent years even as natural gas production has surged.

However, independent studies estimate a wide range of leak rates from natural gas production, from 0.71 to 7.9 percent. More comprehensive studies are needed for accurate results.

EPA has committed to examining options for applying remote sensing and other technologies to improve methane emissions data accuracy and transparency, and strengthening reporting requirements for methane in its Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program.

Why is methane intentionally released?

In the production process, small amounts of methane can leak unintentionally. In addition, methane may be intentionally released or vented to the atmosphere for safety reasons at the wellhead or to reduce pressure from equipment or pipelines.

How does EPA propose to address methane emissions from oil and natural gas production?

EPA will propose standards by summer of 2015 for methane emissions from new and modified oil and gas production sources and natural gas processing and transmission sources. A final rule is expected in 2016.

EPA already regulates Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs, which are ozone-forming pollutants) from new oil and gas production sources, which has the side benefit of also reducing methane. EPA plans to apply VOC standards to existing oil and gas systems in areas that do not meet the ozone health standard and in northeastern states in the Ozone Transport Region.

For other existing oil and gas production, EPA said it will work collaboratively with states and industry, including the One Future Initiative and the Downstream Initiative, to reduce methane emissions through voluntary programs, such as the Natural Gas STAR program. The goal is to encourage innovation, provide transparency, and track progress toward specific methane emission reduction goals. The announcement noted that voluntary action by industry may reduce the need for future regulation, referring to regulation of existing sources under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act. However, the administration noted that they will be evaluating progress on voluntary actions and determining if any additional steps are needed.

In addition, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management will update its standards, to be proposed in spring 2015, to reduce leaks and flaring of methane from both new and existing oil and gas wells on public lands.

What entities will be covered by the regulations?

The proposed rule would cover new and modified oil and gas production sources, and natural gas processing and transmission sources. Specifically, EPA notes it will look to reduce emissions from five specific sources discussed in technical papers in spring 2014: oil well completions, pneumatic pumps, and leaks from well sites, gathering and boosting stations, and compressor stations. In developing new standards, EPA says it will focus on in-use technologies, current industry practices, emerging innovations and streamlined and flexible regulatory approaches to ensure that emissions reductions can be achieved as oil and gas production and operations continue to grow.

How would the EPA’s proposed methane actions complement existing regulation?

In April 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized new source performance standards (NSPS) and hazardous air pollutant regulations for oil and gas production and gas processing, transmission, and storage facilities. While primarily aimed at reducing smog-forming and toxic air pollutants, known as Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs, the rules also have the indirect effect of reducing methane emissions. These rules include the requirement to use "green completions" at natural gas wells to limit emissions from hydraulic fracturing, a rapidly growing means of drilling and production. In a “green completion,” special equipment separates hydrocarbons from the used hydraulic fracturing fluid, or “flowback,” that comes back up from the well as it is being prepared for production. This step allows for the collection (and sale or use) of methane that may be mixed with the flowback and would otherwise be released to the atmosphere.

In its January 2015 announcement, EPA said it will develop new guidelines to assist states in reducing VOCs from existing oil and gas systems in areas that do not meet the ozone health standard and in states in the Ozone Transport Region. Like the earlier NSPS, these guidelines will also reduce methane emissions.

What other non-regulatory steps has the administration announced it will take?

The president will request $15 million for the Department of Energy (DOE) to develop and demonstrate more cost-effective technologies to detect and reduce losses from natural gas transmission and distribution systems, including leaks repairs and developing next-generation compressors. The president’s budget will also propose $10 million to launch a program at DOE to enhance the quantification of emissions from natural gas infrastructure for inclusion in the national Greenhouse Gas Inventory in coordination with EPA. Congress must appropriate funding for these programs for them to be implemented. DOE will also be responsible for other recommendations to reduce emissions from the natural gas system.

Climate progress in 2014 sets the stage for 2015 action

Progress on a multifaceted global challenge like climate change doesn’t happen in one flash of bright light. This can lead to the impression that little is being accomplished, especially when stories highlight areas of disagreement.

Nothing can be further from the truth. In reality, progress is more like the brightening sky before dawn. We saw positive steps in 2014, and they’ll help lay the groundwork for significant climate action in 2015 in the United States and around the world.

In the U.S., we will see the EPA Clean Power Plan finalized and states taking up the challenge to develop innovative policies to reduce harmful carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. Allowing governors to do what they do best, innovating at the state level, will be a key achievement of 2015.

Internationally, more countries than ever before will be putting forward new targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions ahead of talks in December in Paris to hammer out a climate pact to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

In the New Year, we will be building on solid progress made in 2014 by governments, businesses, and individuals. Here are 10 examples:

Carbon Pricing Proposals of the 113th Congress

Comparison of Carbon Pricing Proposals in the 113th Congress

December 2014

Download the brief (PDF)

Six proposals to put a price on carbon were introduced in the 113th Congress (2013-2014). Five would establish a carbon tax (also called a “carbon pollution fee”) and one would establish a cap-and-dividend program (a cap-and-trade program that would rebate program revenues to consumers).

This brief compares the proposals by key attributes, highlighting similarities and differences. The proposals are:

  • The Climate Protection Act of 2013 (S.332) introduced by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) on February 14, 2013;
  • The Managed Carbon Price Act, 2014 (H.R.4754) introduced by Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) on May 28, 2014;
  • The Healthy Climate and Family Security Act of 2014 (H.R.5271) introduced by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) on July 30, 2014; and
  • America’s Energy Security Trust Fund Act of 2014 (H.R.5307) introduced by Rep. John Larson (D-CT) on July 31, 2014;
  • The American Opportunity Carbon Fee Act (S.2940), introduced by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) on November 19, 2014; and
  • The State Choices Act introduced (H.R.5796) by Rep. John Delaney (D-MD) on December 4, 2014.

 

Jason Ye
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5 ideas for EPA's Clean Power Plan

The proposed Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants is a long overdue turning point in America’s response to climate change.

EPA’s approach gives the states tremendous flexibility to design strategies that work best for them. States have always been incubators of innovation, and they will drive technological and policy innovation as they encourage low-cost solutions to implement the plan.

We need to encourage that innovation – by cities, states, and businesses -- to show the path forward to a clean energy economy.

C2ES submitted comments today as part of the EPA’s process to seek stakeholder input to the proposed rule before finalizing it in June 2015.

Here are five suggestions that could make EPA’s framework even better.

Comments of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions on Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units

Summary of C2ES December 2014 comments on EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan “Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units”

Read the full comments here (PDF).

On June 18, 2014, EPA proposed carbon dioxide emission standards for existing power plants, also known as the Clean Power Plan, implementing its authority under section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act. More information on the proposed rule can be found here. On December 1, 2014, C2ES submitted formal comments to EPA in response to the proposed rule. The comments are summarized below.

General Comments

Market-based mechanisms should be used to reduce carbon emissions: A nationwide, comprehensive, market-based program to reduce carbon emissions would be more effective and less costly than a state-by-state, sector-by-sector approach. Given the urgency of the need for climate policy action, and since such a program would require legislation that is unlikely in the near-term, EPA is appropriately using its authority under the Clean Air Act to reduce emissions from the power sector.

The Clean Power Plan is a stepping-stone to a comprehensive, national program: In finalizing the Clean Power Plan, EPA should do what it can to move individual actions toward a broader, nationwide program. This would include provisions that enable carbon-cutting technology deployment and policy consistency and compatibility across state lines.

State flexibility in the Clean Power Plan is critical: Since each state faces unique challenges when addressing its power sector, EPA has appropriately included several important flexibility elements in the proposal. States all have customized targets based on potential, and are authorized to work together or comply alone, pursue a rate- or mass-based standard, and drive emission reductions using any number of established or novel policy tools.

EPA-defined model provisions could encourage interstate consistency: Model provisions for topics such as how to use a carbon fee for compliance or what measurement, recording, and verification (MR&V) protocols to use to track efficiency measures could help states meet the deadline for their plans and could promote consistency across states.

Energy Generation

Renewable energy projections should be based on a state’s market potential: Basing renewable generation projections, used in building block two of the Best System of Emission Reduction (BSER) determination, on regional benchmarks of Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) leads to inconsistent and inequitable results. This projection should instead be based on the potential market penetration of renewable generation in each state.

Unaffected generators should be able to opt-in: Generators not covered in the proposal, such as those under 25 megawatts or not connected to the electricity grid, should be allowed to opt-in such that their emission reductions can be credited.

Assuming a phase-in from coal to natural gas could increase state flexibility: The interim compliance targets, generally driven by a projected sudden shift from coal to gas, are so stringent that they could force some states to invest in new natural gas capacity to replace retired coal. EPA should consider softening these interim targets, coupled with a strengthening of final targets, to ensure states have adequate time to invest in long-term solutions like renewable generation.

Support for nuclear generation should be strengthened: EPA should consider factoring 100 percent of existing nuclear generation in its target and compliance calculations to ensure states are strongly encouraged to maintain their existing fleets. EPA should also explore means to increase credit for nuclear units currently under construction to recognize the investment and foresight of the relevant states.

A single year should not be used as the hydropower generation baseline: States that rely heavily on hydropower can experience significant year-to-year variability in fossil generation to balance the variability in water resource availability. EPA should consider a multi-year baseline to more realistically account for each state’s current reliance on fossil generation.

Energy Efficiency

States should be encouraged to improve energy efficiency regardless of when or where the emission cuts take place: EPA should ensure states are able to give equal credit to any efficiency or conservation measure that reduces electricity demand in the compliance period, regardless of when the measure was enacted and even if it leads to a reduction in electricity imports in addition to a reduction in domestic generation.

New load that cuts economy-wide emissions should not be discouraged: As proposed, the Clean Power Plan would discourage many states from adding new load that actually cuts carbon emissions on a system-wide basis. For example, electric vehicles add to power plant emissions but more than offset this increase with a decrease in gasoline emissions. EPA should adjust the proposal to ensure such loads are not discouraged.

All types of demand reduction should be recognized: Assuming appropriate MR&V protocols are used, states should be able to recognize and reward credit for all demand reduction driven by efficiency policies or investments. For example, if a water utility reduces its electricity demand by reducing the demand for water (thereby reducing demand for pumping and treatment), this reduction should be creditable as part of the state's implementation of the Plan.

 

US-China climate goals go well beyond business as usual

The climate targets announced this month by the United States and China will require a significant effort beyond a business-as-usual scenario for both countries. More details will likely follow in the weeks and months ahead, but here is what we know so far for each country.

China

China announced a goal for its greenhouse gas emissions to peak by 2030 or sooner. This marks the first time that China has pledged a peak or absolute target for greenhouse gas emissions, rather than an intensity-based target. In business-as-usual scenarios, China’s emissions wouldn’t peak until 2040 or later.

China also announced it would boost its share of zero-carbon energy, which includes nuclear, hydropower and renewables, to 20 percent – up from about 13 percent today. Meeting that goal will require a substantial build-out of nuclear power stations, hydroelectric stations, wind turbines, and solar panels, as well as transmission and other infrastructure. In a separate announcement, China said it plans to cap its coal consumption by the year 2020.

China can’t, as critics claim, sit idly by for 15 years and reach these targets. It will need to significantly restructure its energy system. China will have to add more than 1 GW of zero-carbon power a week for the next 15 years – an amount roughly equal to the entire installed electricity capacity of the United States.

Climate Resilience Toolkit is important resource

Anyone who needs to plan for future risks -- whether a city manager, a state official, or a business leader -- needs good information that’s easy to find and easy to use. The federal government took an important step to help managers plan for the impacts of climate change with the release this month of the Climate Resilience Toolkit.

This new online portal offers a wide range of resources and interactives that consolidate some of the “greatest hits” from federal climate data sets, guidance for resilience planning, and examples of resilience projects.

The toolkit is likely to be especially helpful for communities and businesses in the early stages of resilience planning, or for individuals who want to know more about managing climate risks. I took a spin through the toolkit’s resources and here’s my take on some of its components.

Process

The toolkit promotes a five-step process for building resilience: Identify the Problem, Determine Vulnerabilities, Investigate Options, Evaluate Risks and Costs, and Take Action.


The Climate Resilience Toolkit’s five-step process for building resilience.

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