The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions seeks to inform the design and implementation of federal policies that will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Drawing from its extensive peer-reviewed published works, in-house policy analyses, and tracking of current legislative proposals, the Center provides research, analysis, and recommendations to policymakers in Congress and the Executive Branch. Read More

Carbon Pollution Standards

Carbon Pollution Standards

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued final rules in August 2015 to limit carbon pollution from existing and new power plants. Electric power generation accounts for 40 percent of U.S. carbon emissions, making it the largest 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. In addition, the U.S. contribution to the upcoming international climate agreement in Paris sets an economy-wide target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

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 32 percent from 2005 emission levels by 2030.

EPA's “Carbon Pollution Standard for New Power Plants” finalizes a standard first proposed in March 2012 that was modified and proposed again in September 2013. States would apply the standards for new coal- and natural gas-fired plants (measured as tons of greenhouse gas emissions per megawatt-hour of elec­tricity produced) at each regulated plant.

Explore the issues and options involved in reducing carbon pollution from power plants through the following resources:

C2ES Resources

Additional Resources


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 released proposed regulations under Section 111(b) of the Clean Air Act on August 18, 2015 for new and modified sources of methane emissions from the oil and natural gas sector. These regulations will be finalized by summer 2016.

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 times stronger 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 proposed a rule in August 2015 that will require new operators of new oil and gas wells to find and repair leaks, capture natural gas from the completion of hydraulically fractured oil wells, limit emissions from new and modified pneumatic pumps, and limit emissions from several types of equipment used at natural gas transmission compressor stations, including compressors and pneumatic controllers. EPA estimates that this proposal would prevent the emission of 340,000 to 400,000 short tons of methane in 2025, which is the equivalent of 7.7 to 9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. 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. One Future and the Downstream Initiative are industry-led, voluntary partnerships to reduce methane emissions from across the natural gas value chain and within distribution networks, respectively. 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 has committed to update its standards to reduce leaks and flaring of methane from both new and existing oil and gas wells on public lands. The timeline to propose new standards, which was to happen in spring 2015, has been delayed.

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 released 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 had the indirect effect of reducing methane emissions, and the proposed rule in August 2015 would have these rules apply directly to methane as well. 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. Because the same technologies in place to reduce VOC emissions would also be used to reduce methane, no additional steps are necessary to reduce methane.

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.

The proposed regulation of August 2015 will extend emission reductions further downstream from the 2012 rules and cover certaun equipment used in the natural gas transmission sector in addition to equipment covered by regulation in 2012.

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.

Q&A: EPA's Federal Implementation Plan

Q&A: EPA's Federal Implementation Plan

On August 3, 2015 as part of the Clean Power Plan release, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a proposed federal plan. The agency is currently soliciting comments on the proposal and intends to issue a final federal plan by summer 2016.

What is a federal implementation plan and when is it used?

The Clean Air Act offer states the opportunity to implement national pollution control programs, including the Clean Power Plan. There is every reason for a state to develop its own plan that takes into account its own unique circumstances, and most states choose to develop and implement programs based on that knowledge. Most states are likely to develop their own program to comply with the Clean Power Plan.

EPA assists state efforts by providing technical and policy guidance. EPA must also review and approve state plans to ensure that they comply with the Act. If a state fails to adopt and implement an adequate plan, EPA is required to issue and enforce a federal implementation plan. States may also choose to adopt the federal plan as an alternative to developing their own plan. However, if a federal plan is implemented in a state, the state may still, at a later date submit a plan to replace the federal plan either in whole or in part. States may take over the administrative and enforcement aspects of a federal plan rather than leaving it to EPA.

What is included in the federal plan?

EPA is proposing two federal plans with different approaches – a rate-based approach and a mass-based approach. These two federal plans can be enforced in states that fail to adopt or implement an adequate plan. These two federal plans may also be considered as model rules which states can adopt or tailor for implementation as a state plan.

How does the federal plan encourage market-based solutions?

The federal plans offers two market-based programs to achieve cost-effective emissions reductions. These may be adopted in part or in whole by states or used as a model for states to design their own plans.

In the rate-based program, units must meet an emission standard or acquire a sufficient number of emission rate credits (ERCs), each representing a zero-emitting megawatt-hour, to bring their rate of emissions into compliance. ERCs can be generated by units not covered directly by this rule, and they can be bought, sold, or banked for later years.

For a mass-based program, EPA would create a state emissions budget equal to the total tons of CO2 allowed to be emitted by the affected units in each state, consistent with the state targets. EPA would initially distribute the allowances within each state budget – less three proposed allowance set-asides – to the affected units based on their historical generation. Allowances may then be transferred, bought, sold, or banked for future use. The compliance obligation on each of the affected unit is to surrender the number of allowances sufficient to cover the unit’s respective emissions at the end of a given compliance period.

The federal plan will also facilitate interstate trading as well as international trading with Canadian and Mexican units that are connected to U.S. electric grid. EPA intends to set up and administer a program to track trading programs – both rate-based and mass-based – that will be available for all states that choose it. EPA proposes that affected units in any state covered by a federal plan could trade compliance instruments with affected units in any other state covered by a federal plan or a state plan meeting the conditions for linkage to the federal plan.

Proper evaluation, measurement, and verification procedures are important to ensure emissions reductions are actually achieved in a trading program. EPA must approve any such procedures and has also offered model procedures to verify that any credits in a state-based trading regime are compliant with federal requirements. States may choose to incorporate these procedures into the state plan to assure approval by EPA.

Will states be penalized for using the federal plan?

No. States will not be penalized for using all or part of a federal plan. The stringency of the proposed federal plan for each state will be the same as required if states were to write their own plan.


EPA's Clean Power Plan puts states in the driver's seat

The finalization today of EPA’s Clean Power Plan offers Americans a clear, realistic roadmap for addressing planet-warming emissions that threaten the environment and the U.S. economy.

Most importantly, it puts states in the driver’s seat to devise innovative strategies to reduce emissions efficiently and cost-effectively. Now it's time for states to work together with businesses and cities to craft the approaches that work best for them.

Climate change is a critical challenge, and the impacts will only grow more costly if we fail to act. Last year was the warmest on Earth since we started keeping records over a century ago. During the first half of this year, it got even hotter. Climate change impacts include more extreme heat, which can exacerbate drought and wildfires, more frequent and intense downpours that can lead to destructive floods, and rising sea levels that threaten coastal cities.

Many cities, states, and companies recognize climate risks. And many are taking steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

New federal standards are already reducing heat-trapping emissions from the second-biggest source, transportation, by increasing the fuel economy of cars and trucks. The Clean Power Plan takes the next logical step by addressing the largest source: the electric power sector, responsible for nearly 40 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions.

Bob Perciasepe's Statement on Clean Power Plan

Statement of Bob Perciasepe
President, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions

August 2, 2015

On the release Monday of the final Clean Power Plan to reduce U.S. power plant emissions.

The administration is doing what science and the law demand, and it’s now up to the states. The smart ones will see this as an opportunity, not a threat – a chance to modernize their economies and energy infrastructure.

I know from my conversations with state leaders and utility CEOs that even those who may openly oppose the rules are thinking hard about how to meet them. And many are very interested in the types of incentive and market-based approaches EPA is encouraging. It behooves every state to sit down with stakeholders – mayors, consumers, businesses – and craft a plan that fits it best. States should take advantage of the opportunity to innovate and make their economies stronger and more sustainable.

The final plan will give states the time needed to craft strong plans and achieve interim targets, provide incentives to increase renewable power and help low-income communities improve energy efficiency, and encourage cost-effective, market-based approaches to reducing emissions.

Many states and businesses are already taking action and demonstrating leadership. Years from now I’m sure we’ll see this as a pivotal moment accelerating the clean energy transition that is already underway.

We’re coming to grips with the rising risks of climate change and laying the foundation for a low-carbon future. The quicker states put their heads together with utilities, businesses, and cities to figure out the smartest approaches, the sooner we’ll get there.


To talk to a C2ES expert, contact: Laura Rehrmann, rehrmannl@c2es.org or 703-516-0621.

About C2ES: The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization promoting strong policy and action to address our climate and energy challenges. Learn more at www.c2es.org.

Bob Perciasepe's Statement on Business Act on Climate Pledge

Statement of Bob Perciasepe
President, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions

July 27, 2015

On the White House announcement of business leaders committing to climate action and supporting efforts to reach a global climate agreement in December in Paris.

We applaud the companies that have come forward to pledge action to reduce heat-trapping emissions, increase clean energy investments, improve efficiency, and support efforts to reach a global climate agreement this year in Paris.

Climate change is posing rising environmental, social, economic, and security risks. Delayed action only means greater costs.

Business leaders get it. They see climate risks firsthand -- in damaged facilities, interrupted power and water supplies, disrupted supply and distribution chains, and impacts on their employees’ lives.

And the business community will be essential to mobilizing the technology, investment and innovation needed to transition to a low-carbon economy.      

Several of the companies making pledges today – Alcoa, Bank of America, and General Motors – are members of the C2ES Business Environmental Leadership Council that is committed to climate action.

Although businesses, cities, states and nations are working toward a more sustainable future, it will take a global effort to address a global threat. Paris is our best opportunity to get all the major economies on board a lasting agreement that strengthens the global effort and works to strengthen it over time.

Many nations, including the United States, China, and the European Union, have already announced their goals for reducing greenhouse gases. But the strength of any agreement will rest on the parties’ political will to implement it.

The strong support of business leaders for climate action, like that exhibited today, can only help to strengthen that will.


To talk to a C2ES expert about business engagement on climate change, contact: Laura Rehrmann, rehrmannl@c2es.org or 703-516-0621

About C2ES: The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization promoting strong policy and action to address our climate and energy challenges. Learn more at www.c2es.org.

How Canada and the U.S. can lead together on climate change

June 27, 2015
The (Toronto) Globe and Mail
Op-Ed by Janet Peace

With fossil fuel production going strong on both sides of the border, Canada and the United States face similar challenges in balancing energy and economic priorities with the urgent need to reduce climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions.

By sharing solutions, many of which are rising up from the state and provincial level, both countries have the opportunity to not only craft a national approach, but also show real leadership as we work toward a new global climate agreement later this year in Paris.

At one time, governments in both countries sought to contain greenhouse gas emissions by enacting economy-wide cap-and-trade programs. But neither materialized, and the national targets the two have announced ahead of Paris rely heavily on subnational policies.

While U.S. emissions generally have been trending downward, as lower-priced natural gas has displaced coal in power production, steeper reductions require mandatory limits on power plant emissions, as President Barack Obama’s administration has proposed. But implementation of the administration’s Clean Power Plan will fall largely to the states.

In Canada, meanwhile, emissions are rising and oil sands-related emissions could double over the next decade if development continues at projected rates. Similarly, getting a handle on Canadian emissions will be largely a provincial matter – resting heavily, in this case, with the new Alberta government.

One of the great virtues of promoting climate action at the subnational level is that it allows for policy experimentation and innovation. Both countries should draw on these lessons as they move toward economy-wide approaches that can achieve greater emission reductions at lower cost. And they should work to better align their respective efforts.

Here are some specific ideas:

First, as more states and provinces turn to carbon pricing to curb emissions, we should forge stronger links among those systems. Ten U.S. states have carbon trading programs. Others may soon follow suit as they look for promising paths to meet their Clean Power Plan emissions reduction targets.

Quebec’s cap-and-trade program is already linked with California’s, and Ontario will soon join them. British Columbia has a carbon tax and Alberta just announced it is extending its carbon-intensity-based pricing system. By setting a clear timeline for a gradual price rice, Alberta is signalling that the value of taking action will increase over time.

Second, the two countries should co-operate on reducing emissions from growing oil and natural gas production. Mr. Obama’s administration is expected to propose a mix of regulatory and voluntary strategies to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. It’s essential that the United States and Canada set the right example for other major energy producers around the world.

Third, both should strengthen and more closely co-ordinate efforts to develop and deploy carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. Even with dramatic increases in renewable power, the world will continue to rely on coal and natural gas to generate electricity, making CCS key to any plausible strategy to reduce global emissions.

Canada has established itself as a leader with the world’s first commercial-scale, coal-fired power plant with CCS – Boundary Dam in Saskatchewan. The United States is working on its first CCS power plant in Kemper County, Miss. But the first two examples of any new technology are going to be expensive, and we’ll need greater support for CCS to build more commercial scale projects and drive costs down. Alberta has been a strong supporter of CCS. Now is the time to continue and even step up that investment.

Fourth, Canada’s abundant hydro resources can be a boon for both countries. The U.S. and Canadian electricity grids are linked through dozens of connections and more than a dozen states already import a significant amount of Canadian hydro. A recent C2ES study found that importing hydro from even a modestly sized new Canadian project (250 megawatts) could help states reduce power sector emissions. For example, California, Massachusetts and Washington state could each get about a third of the way toward their proposed Clean Power Plan targets.

Canada and the United States are blessed with abundant resources and vibrant economies. Both have the opportunity to show global leadership in dramatically reducing the emissions that are warming our planet and risking our environment and our economies. With the right mix of national and subnational policies, and by working together, the two countries can enjoy strong, sustainable growth while fulfilling the commitments they make in Paris.


Janet Peace is senior vice-president of policy and business strategy at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES). She is also a member of the Council of Canadian Academies on oil sands environmental technologies.

Read the original article on the Globe and Mail website.

C2ES issues status report on Obama Climate Action Plan Progress

Press Release
June 23, 2015
Contact: Laura Rehrmann, rehrmannl@c2es.org, 703-516-0621

C2ES issues status report on Obama Climate Action Plan progress

WASHINGTON – Two years after President Obama announced his Climate Action Plan, the administration has made notable progress in all areas, according to a new Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) status report on the plan’s implementation.

There has been at least initial action on each of the 75 goals outlined in the plan, according to the C2ES status report.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to finalize rules this summer to limit carbon pollution from the No. 1 source – power plants. As for emissions from the second largest source, transportation, new fuel economy standards are in place for cars and light trucks and are in the works for heavy-duty trucks built after model year 2018.

Other notable areas of progress include:

  • New energy efficiency standards
  • Actions to reduce methane and hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) emissions
  • The release of climate adaptation plans by 38 federal agencies and a Climate Resilience Toolkit for the public,
  • A joint announcement with China on new greenhouse gas targets.

Areas where there has been only initial progress include increasing the climate resilience of federal buildings and infrastructure.

“The administration is making good progress, and cities, states and businesses are all taking stronger climate action” said C2ES President Bob Perciasepe. “But achieving some of the plan’s goals will require sustained efforts beyond the president’s time in office. We’ll need continued federal leadership to reduce the emissions causing climate change and prepare for climate impacts.”

The plan, announced June 25, 2013, outlines goals in three areas: cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, preparing 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.

Read the status report at: http://bit.ly/CAP2ndYear

To speak to a C2ES expert about progress toward climate goals, contact Laura Rehrmann at rehrmannl@c2es.org.

About C2ES
The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) is an independent nonprofit, nonpartisan organization promoting strong policy and action to address the challenges of energy and climate change. Learn more at www.c2es.org.

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.

President Obama's Climate Action Plan: Two Years Later

President Obama's Climate Action Plan:
Two Years Later

June 2015

By Michael Tubman

Download the brief (PDF)

Two years after President Obama announced his Climate Action Plan, the administration has made marked progress toward achieving its goals. The plan, announced June 25, 2013, outlines 75 goals in three areas: cutting carbon pollution in the United States, preparing the United States for the impacts of climate change, and leading international efforts to address climate change. To date, there has been at least initial government action related to every item in the plan.

Michael Tubman
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