Climate Compass Blog

What to watch in EPA’s power plant carbon emissions proposal

On June 2, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to release its proposal to cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from existing power plants. This proposal is a key element of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, and will be critical to reducing U.S emissions of CO2, the most common greenhouse gas contributing to climate change.

The proposed rule, being developed under EPA’s authority under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, could be groundbreaking for at least two reasons. First, it has the potential to drive major reductions in the highest emitting sector in the United States – the power sector – which is responsible for nearly 40 percent of U.S. carbon emissions.  Second, EPA has indicated that the proposal will include a number of novel policy provisions to advance low-emitting generation and energy efficiency.

At C2ES, we’ll be looking for answers to four key questions as we read through EPA’s proposal. These questions are expanded upon in our new brief, Carbon Pollution Standards for Existing Power Plants: Key Challenges.

Commuting by bike offers environmental and health benefits

These C2ES staff members often ride bikes to work. Left to Right: Solutions Fellow Patrick Falwell, Senior Fellow Kyle Aarons, Administrative/Accounts Payable Assistant John Marzabadi, VP for Policy and Analysis Jeff Hopkins,  Science and Impacts Program Director Joe Casola. Inset: Solutions Intern Lucas Bifera.

This Friday, the Washington, D.C. area celebrates Bike to Work Day, an annual event that is part of Bike Month.

Most Americans may think of bicycling as a recreational activity best done on the weekends, but many people incorporate cycling into their daily commutes. Statistics from the League of American Bicyclists show that the total number of bicycle trips exploded in recent years, from 1.7 billion in 2001 to more than 4 billion in 2009.

Cycling can play a part in reducing carbon-dioxide emissions. While the average U.S. car emits about a pound of CO2 per mile from burning fuel, bicycling is carbon free. More bicycle commuters also take cars off the road, relieving congestion in traffic-clogged cities.

Support for a spectrum of contributions to the 2015 agreement

A team of international legal scholars recently presented their analysis of the core principles guiding international climate change law. Their findings, particularly on the sensitive issue of equity, should be helpful to negotiators working toward a new global climate agreement next year in Paris.

The analysis by the Committee on the Legal Principles Relating to Climate Change comes as countries gear up for the final 18 months of a four-year round of climate negotiations under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Durban Platform decision that launched the talks in 2011 calls for an agreement that will apply post-2020, have “legal force,” and “be applicable to all Parties.”

That final phrase is an oblique nod to an issue at the core of the climate negotiations from the start – the appropriate distribution of effort among developed and developing countries. While not speaking directly to the Paris talks, the Committee makes a clear case for a more nuanced, evolutionary approach to this thorny issue of “differentiation.”

The UNFCCC speaks to the broad issue of equity primarily through the core principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.”  While the principle has universal support, how it’s applied is a frequent dividing point.

Incentive to capture carbon emissions would spur needed technology

If carbon dioxide were a valuable commodity instead of a waste product, there would be a lot more incentive to capture it.

It turns out some oil producers already find carbon dioxide so useful, they’re willing to pay for it. In fact, they pay upwards of $30 per ton of CO2, which they then inject underground to coax oil from declining wells.

U.S. oil producers have been practicing carbon dioxide enhanced oil recovery (CO2-EOR) for four decades. Historically, they’ve relied mostly on CO2 from naturally occurring underground reservoirs. A better idea is to use man-made carbon emissions that would otherwise go into the atmosphere and contribute to climate change.

No single solution to nuclear’s troubles

A range of tools, including state action and power market changes, are needed to ensure that existing nuclear power plants help keep the United States on track to meeting its climate goals. That was the consensus of experts C2ES convened this week at the National Press Club to discuss nuclear’s role as a zero-carbon energy source.

In a new brief, Climate Solutions: The Role of Nuclear Power, C2ES laid out some of the factors that led to the premature retirement of five nuclear reactors. Nuclear power provides more than 60 percent of zero-carbon emission electricity in the United States. So further closures will make it harder to reduce U.S. carbon emissions.

C2ES assembled a group of experts, including Peter Lyons, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy; Carol Browner, Center for American Progress Distinguished Senior Fellow and former EPA Administrator; and Bill Mohl, President of Entergy Wholesale Commodities, to suggest potential remedies for preserving the existing nuclear fleet.

Notably, not all of the 100 operating nuclear reactors are at risk, only the 46 that operate as “merchant” generators and compete in wholesale power markets. Pressures they face include low natural gas prices, renewables policy, a slowdown in demand for electricity, unfavorable power market structures, and the absence of a price on carbon.