Q&A: EPA Regulation of Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Existing Power Plants

Q&A: EPA Regulation of Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Existing Power Plants

On August 3, 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adopted Carbon Pollution Standards for Existing Power Plants, known as the Clean Power Plan.

Adopted pursuant to EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act, the Clean Power Plan establishes unique emission rate goals and mass equivalents for each state. It is projected to reduce carbon emissions from the power sector 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. Individual state targets are based on national uniform “emission performance rate” standards (pounds of CO2 per MWh) and each state’s unique generation mix. See more resources and maps at the C2ES Carbon Pollution Standards Resource Page.


Compliance Options


Next Steps


Q: Why is EPA regulating carbon dioxide?

Under the Supreme Court decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, greenhouse gases meet the definition of air pollutants under the Clean Air Act, meaning they must be regulated if they could be reasonably anticipated to endanger public health or welfare. EPA made this determination in 2009. In June 2013, President Obama directed EPA to work closely with states, power plant operators, and other stakeholders in developing carbon standards for existing power plants, and to finalize the standards by June 2015. EPA released its proposed rule in June 2014 and the final rule in August 2015.

Q: Why do we need to regulate power sector carbon emissions?

The power sector is the largest source of U.S. carbon emissions, which are contributing to global climate change.

Many businesses, cities and states are cutting emissions, increasing renewable energy, and improving energy efficiency. In addition, newly abundant natural gas has begun to displace coal (which emits twice as much carbon) in the U.S. electrical generation mix.  But in the absence of major new policies, U.S. emissions are projected to rise as the economy grows, and as natural gas prices rise. Stronger policies are needed to increase energy efficiency, thereby reducing electricity consumption, and to expand the use of low- and no-carbon energy sources. Under a business-as-usual forecast, fossil fuels are projected to provide 66 percent of the U.S. fuel mix in 2030 compared with 60 percent under the Clean Power Plan, with most of the reduction coming from higher-emitting coal plants. Therefore, under a business-as-usual scenario, carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector are expected to increase around 6.5 percent (from 2014 levels) to 2,177 million metric tons in 2030, while under the Clean Power Plan carbon dioxide emissions would fall more than 19 percent (from 2014 levels) to 1,644 million metric tons in 2030.

Figure 1: U.S. CO2 Emissions

Figure 2: Projected Electric Power Sector Carbon Dioxide Emissions under Business-as-Usual Scenario

Q: What is in EPA’s Clean Power Plan?

Typically, under the Clean Air Act, EPA sets standards and states implement them.  The Clean Power Plan:

  • Sets unique emission rates goals and mass equivalents for each state, reflecting the variation in their electricity generation mixes, to be met starting in 2022;
  • Provides states significant flexibility in choosing how to meet their targets;
  • Provides incentives for early deployment of renewables and efficiency measures benefiting low-income communities;
  • Provides tools to assist states choosing to implement market-based approaches; and
  • Contains a Federal Implementation Plan that EPA would use in states that do not accept adequate implementation plans.

EPA set interim and 2030 targets for each state based on uniform emission performance rates (application of BSER) and its unique generation mix.

Q: How was each state’s target calculated?

Uniform, national emission performance rates for affected power plants are based on the “best system of emission reduction” (BSER), using three “building blocks” or potential pathways applied regionally to reduce CO2 emissions:

  1. Make affected fossil fuel power plants more efficient;
  2. Increase generation from lower-emitting natural gas combined cycle plants; and
  3. Increase generation from new zero-emitting renewable power sources.

See a map of state targets for a more detailed explanation.

Q: What are the big differences between the proposed and final plans?

States will have more time to submit their implementation plans (they can get extensions to 2018) and two more years (until 2022) to begin phasing in pollution cuts. C2ES and others encouraged allowing states more time so they could take a longer view on planning and investment.

The final plan also proposes a voluntary Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP) to encourage early installation of renewable energy projects and energy efficiency programs for low-income communities before the 2022 compliance start date. EPA has invited comments on the CEIP and will address design and implementation details in a future action.

Market-based mechanisms are more explicitly encouraged in the final rule. The proposed federal implementation plan includes an option for states to join an interstate cap-and-trade program. It also outlines how states could participate in emissions credit trading without the creation of interstate compacts.

In calculating individual state targets, EPA had proposed taking into account each states’ energy efficiency potential, but it chose not to do so in the final rules. However, like the proposal, the final plan allows states to use energy efficiency programs for compliance.

EPA also changed its methodology for determining incremental renewable energy to better reflect regional technical potential, rather than state-level renewables policies, as in the proposal.

Unlike in the proposed plan, states with nuclear power plants under construction – Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee – will be able to count this generation toward compliance instead of having it factored into their targets.

The final rule also takes the interstate nature of the electric system into greater consideration. The proposal calculated state targets by applying building blocks to each state. The final rule uses the characteristics and potential of electric grid interconnections (Eastern, Western and Texas) to determine emission performance rates for units, which are then applied to each state’s unique generation mix to calculate a target.

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Compliance Options

Q: How can states reduce power sector carbon emissions?

States have wide latitude in designing their strategies to reduce emissions. In most cases, they will rely on a variety of measures. Major options include substituting natural gas for coal; improving energy efficiency; and increasing reliance on renewable energy.

States can implement the Clean Power Plan individually or in cooperation with other states. They also can employ market-based mechanisms, such as averaging or trading, to help power companies identify least-cost emission reductions.

Examples of steps to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the power sector are illustrated in Figure 3 and Table 1.

Figure 3: Opportunities to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the power sector

Table 1: Policy options to reduce power sector carbon dioxide emissions

Power plant performance standardEach power plant must achieve a set emissions intensityCalifornia, New York, Washington
Renewable Portfolio StandardUtilities must deliver a set percentage of renewable electricityColorado, Hawaii, Kansas, Missouri, Nevada, Rhode Island, and others
Energy Efficiency Resource StandardUtilities must cut demand by a set amount by target yearsArizona, Connecticut, Maryland, Minnesota, Texas, and others
DecouplingReduce utility incentive to deliver more electricity by decoupling revenue and profitCalifornia, Idaho, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oregon, and others
Net MeteringEncourage residential solar by paying homeowners to put excess electricity back on gridArkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Louisiana, and others
Cap & TradeIssue a declining number of carbon allowances, which must be surrendered in proportion to each plant’s emissionsCalifornia, Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative
Carbon TaxCharge a tax for emitting carbonBritish Columbia
Grid Operator Carbon FeeAdd a carbon price to grid operator decision over which power plants to runNone currently
Appliance Efficiency StandardsRequire new appliances sold to meet set electricity consumption standardsCalifornia, Florida, New Jersey, and others
Commercial & Residential Building CodesRequire new buildings to include electricity saving measuresCalifornia, Illinois, Maryland, Mississippi, and others


Q: How could states use market-based approaches to implement the plan?

Economists consider market-based approaches to be the most efficient way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Clean Power Plan encourages states to consider using market mechanisms, which could include a cap-and-trade program, a carbon tax, or tradable renewables or efficiency certificates.

EPA intends to set up and administer a program to track trading programs for states that choose to use them. In addition, the Federal Implementation Plan that EPA would employ in states without adequate plans includes market-based programs, which can be used by states as a model for their own plans.

Under EPA’s proposed new Clean Energy Incentive Program, states that act early to cut carbon pollution, either with renewables or energy efficiency, would be rewarded with emission reduction credits (ERCs), which they could use to meet their targets or sell to other emitters.

Q: How can states work together to implement the Clean Power Plan?

States have long collaborated to achieve energy and environmental goals. The successful trading program to reduce sulfur dioxide, which causes acid rain, is an example.

The plan is designed to facilitate interstate compliance strategies, including different forms of trading. The federal implementation plan outlines strategies to determine the equivalence of emission reduction credits in different states. It would also create a national platform that can be used to track the buying, selling, and trading of credits across state lines.

An example of states already working together is the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the Northeast. A multi-state approach could also be accomplished through another existing authority such as a Regional Transmission Organization (RTO) or Independent System Operator (ISO).

Q: Will states be able to use Canadian hydropower to comply?

Renewable energy from outside of the United States, including Canadian hydropower, can be used for compliance purposes, provided it is incremental and installed after 2012 and meets some other conditions. More than a dozen U.S. states already import a significant amount of Canadian hydropower. According to a C2ES report, importing hydropower from even a modestly sized new Canadian project (250 MW) could help a state bridge the gap between its current carbon emissions rate and its 2030 target.

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Q: Will the Clean Power Plan affect the reliability of the electric grid?

In response to concerns raised by EPA’s proposed rule, the final plan includes a “reliability safety valve” temporarily relaxing emission standards on individual electric generating units under extraordinary circumstances where electric system reliability is concerned.

To mitigate reliability issues, states are required to address reliability in their compliance plans. Importantly, the plan gives states up to seven years before interim targets must be met, providing time for state regulators and reliability entities to work with utilities and other key stakeholders.

The plan is also expected to encourage energy efficiency, which helps lower demand growth and improve reliability.

Q: How much will implementing the plan cost?

EPA calculates that savings from increased energy efficiency will outweigh the costs of implementing the plan, reducing household electric bills by about $7 per month by 2030.  The agency estimates compliance costs of $5.1 billion to $8.4 billion and total benefits of $34 billion to $54 billion.

Q: How does the plan address nuclear power?

Nuclear provides nearly 20 percent of the nation’s power and is the largest source of carbon-free baseload electricity. Five reactors are now under construction in Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina and are expected to be online by 2030.

Unlike the proposal, the final rule does not consider existing or new nuclear power for the purposes of setting state targets. Therefore, the five reactors under construction and any new units or upgrades can count toward compliance.

Q: How is natural gas treated in the plan?

Both the proposal and the final plan envision about a third of U.S. electricity coming from natural gas in 2030. However, under the final plan, less new natural gas generation capacity is anticipated.

Natural gas demand was expected to grow more quickly under the earlier compliance date called for in the proposed rule. Proposed incentives for early deployment of renewables may encourage more investment in renewable energy in the short term.

Q: What does this plan mean for coal?

Demand for coal in the U.S. has been decreasing for many years because of the availability of relatively less expensive natural gas to meet baseload power demands and because of other environmental and safety regulations. Even before the Clean Power Plan, very few new coal plants were expected to be constructed. According to EPA’s IPM modeling of the final rule, coal is expected to make up 27 to 28 percent of the electric generation mix in 2030. Under a business-as-usual scenario, coal is expected to deliver 36 percent of U.S. electricity in 2030.

Figure 4: Distribution of Fossil Fuel Power Plants across the Contiguous United States

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Next Steps

Q: What is the timetable for implementing the plan?

States have one year to either submit a plan or request an extension. All final plans are due by September 2018. EPA will approve or disapprove a final plan within a year.

The Clean Energy Incentive Program begins on January 1, 2020. States that have expressed their interest in participating in this program in their final plans are eligible. This program runs throughout 2020 and 2021.

On January 1, 2022, states must begin complying by meeting their interim targets. On January 30, 2030, states must meet their final CO2 reduction goals.

Q: Won’t this end up in the courts?

A number of states have already brought legal actions challenging the rule (some of these states are simultaneously working on their implementation plans).

Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act – the section under which the Clean Power Plan was adopted – has not been used often in the past, so EPA has few precedents to rely on. However, the courts historically have granted EPA a fair amount of discretion in implementing the act, and some of the changes made in the final plan will make it better able to withstand legal challenge. 

Q: What happens to states that fail to comply?

States now have up to three years to write implementation plans, applying their knowledge of their utilities and the programs that have worked in the past.

Under the Clean Air Act, any state that fails to submit a plan or get EPA approval for its plan will be subject to a federal implementation plan. The current proposals for the federal implementation plan would use flexible, market-based solutions for compliance.

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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.

Breaking through the Montreal Protocol stalemate

The latest working group meeting of the Montreal Protocol in Paris produced much useful discussion, but few concrete results due to limited but vocal opposition to an amendment to phase down hydrofluorcarbons (HFCs), a fast-growing, extremely potent family of global warming gases. 

Efforts to achieve an amendment at the upcoming Meeting of the Parties in November had gained considerable momentum over the past year.  Four proposals for an amendment had been submitted by India, the European Union, the Island States, and North America (Mexico, Canada and the U.S.).  Beyond those proposals, the African States also have voiced their clear support for an amendment and recent meetings between President Obama and his counterparts from Brazil, India, and China had produced joint statements in support of action on HFCs under the Montreal Protocol. 

Despite support for these proposals from nearly 100 countries, the week-long meeting in Paris this month failed to reach agreement on even starting the negotiating process through the creation of a contact group.  After opposing these efforts over several meetings, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait (and other Gulf Cooperation Council countries) voiced their willingness to allow a two-stage process to move forward, but Pakistan stood firm in opposition, blocking any agreement.

In the absence of a mandate to begin negotiations, a number of sessions in Paris focused on a very useful exchange of views on issues raised by the four amendment proposals.  India, China and others identified concerns about the costs and availability of alternatives to HFCs (including concerns about obstacles created by patents), the performance of these alternatives in high ambient temperatures, the time required to address flammability concerns of some key alternatives, the importance of energy efficiency, and the need for financing through the Protocol’s Multilateral Fund.

All agreed to hold another working group session prior to the November Meeting of the Parties. But time is fast running out on this year’s efforts to reach agreement on an HFC phasedown amendment.  

What can be done to break this stalemate?

In the past, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has sometimes played an active role convening senior representatives from key countries and driving needed compromise. During the early years of the Protocol, UNEP’s Mostafa Tolba was masterful in bringing key countries together to find a workable solution.  Through informal, senior-level consultations, Tolba either forged a compromise text acceptable to all, or developed his own proposals that he would offer as a way forward.

While times have certainly changed, it may be that the moment has now arrived for Achim Steiner, UNEP’s current executive director, to actively engage with senior officials from key countries with the goal of advancing efforts at bringing HFCs into the Montreal Protocol.

Reducing Carbon Dioxide Emissions From Aircraft

How significant a source of emissions is air travel?

The transportation sector is one of the largest contributors to U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, second only to the power sector, and aircraft comprise a significant and rapidly growing emission source within that sector. In 2013, aircraft accounted for nearly 11 percent of carbon dioxide emissions from the U.S. transportation sector, making them responsible for about 3 percent of total U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. Commercial air travel accounted for most of the aircraft carbon dioxide emissions, with military and general aviation making up the rest.

From 1990 to 2013, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from domestic commercial flights grew 4 percent. Recent studies estimate that U.S. aircraft emissions will increase substantially in the next 20 years. Moreover, airplanes remain the single largest source of carbon dioxide emissions within the U.S. transportation sector that is not yet subject to greenhouse gas regulations.

U.S. aviation is part of the increasingly interconnected global aviation sector, which makes up about 2 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions but is one of the fastest growing sources. From 1990 to 2010, global aircraft carbon dioxide emissions grew about 40 percent. If global aviation were a country, it would rank as the seventh largest carbon dioxide emitter, and U.S. aircraft emissions are 29 percent of all global aircraft emissions. Absent new policies, global aircraft emissions are projected to triple by 2050.


Figure 1: 2013 U.S. carbon dioxide emission, by sector and transportation source

The transportation sector is responsible for more than one-third of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. Aircraft are responsible for nearly 9 percent of U.S. transportation sector carbon dioxide emissions.

Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990–2013 (Washington, DC: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2015), http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/Downloads/ghgemissions/US-GHG-Inventory-2015-Main-Text.pdf.

What is the status of regulation?

In 2012, the DC District Court ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is required under the Clean Air Act to determine whether greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft cause or contribute to air pollution, which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare. An endangerment finding would trigger regulation under the Clean Air Act.

On June 10, 2015, EPA issued its proposed endangerment finding for greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft under section 231 of the Clean Air Act. The proposed finding builds on the previous 2009 endangerment finding for light-duty vehicles and found greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft engines used in certain types of aircraft are responsible for contributing to climate change, which threatens public health and welfare. Covered aircraft are those subject to international carbon dioxide emission standards, subsonic jet aircraft — ranging from smaller jet aircraft such as the Cessna Citation II to larger jet aircraft such as the Boeing 747 — and subsonic turboprop aircraft — e.g., Bombardier Q400. The proposed endangerment finding will receive public comment before a final endangerment finding may be issued. The final endangerment finding itself would not impose any restrictions on aircraft. It is however a necessary step in determining whether EPA must regulate greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft.

How does EPA action fit with global action?

Unlike stationary sources, such as power plants, and many mobile sources, such as cars, aircraft frequently travel between jurisdictions with different environmental laws and standards. As such, the United Nation’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) serves as a global forum to develop policies and standards for the global industry, including a comprehensive set of measures to address greenhouse gas emissions. ICAO is developing a market-based system for aircraft to reduce total emissions from the sector, including through the use of offsets. It is also developing technology-based emission standards for covered aircraft, which are expected to be proposed in February 2016 and adopted later in that year.

Traditionally, both the EPA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have worked within the ICAO process to establish international emission standards and related requirements for other pollutants. Under this approach, international emission standards are first adopted by ICAO, and EPA subsequently initiates rulemaking under section 231 of the Clean Air Act to establish domestic standards equivalent to international standards where appropriate. Both EPA and FAA expect to take a similar approach in promulgating future domestic aircraft greenhouse gas standards for covered aircraft.

What are the next steps?

EPA issued an advanced noticed of proposed rulemaking at the same time as the proposed endangerment finding. The notice solicits comments on a variety of issues related to setting an international carbon dioxide standard for aircraft, including whether such standards should apply to in-production aircraft or new aircraft type designs, the appropriate effective date for a potential international carbon dioxide standard, as well as the appropriate stringency level. However, it does not impose any standards or regulatory requirements at this time.

EPA’s endangerment finding and advanced notice of proposed rulemaking lay the groundwork for U.S. adoption of international emission standards. Once ICAO adopts emission standards for covered aircraft in 2016, EPA is expected to begin rulemaking under section 231 of the Clean Air Act to establish domestic aircraft engine emission standards for covered aircraft that are of at least equivalent stringency as the international emission standards.

Taking action on climate change is good business strategy

A new C2ES report highlights lessons useful for companies and policymakers as more states and countries consider carbon pricing to spur innovative technologies and cut emissions at the lowest possible cost.

The report, written for the World Bank’s Partnership for Market Readiness (PMR), examines how three companies — Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), Rio Tinto, and Royal Dutch Shell -- prepared for carbon pricing programs.

The PMR shares this type of information with developing countries to help them create their own market-based policies. We were pleased to partner with the PMR to explore how a few of the companies in our Business Environmental Leadership Council prepared for carbon pricing and we thank the companies for sharing their expertise.

The lessons they shared fall into two categories – what business can learn from other companies operating in carbon markets and what governments considering market-based climate policy can learn from business.

U.S. Department of Energy Investment in Carbon, Capture and Storage


The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) oversees federal efforts to advance the deployment carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. In addition to working on the research and development of CCS component technologies, DOE has provided financial support to multiple commercial-scale CCS projects in the power and industrial sectors. This brief examines DOE’s support for CCS through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and through its annual budget.




Download the Brief


2020 Country Emissions Targets

International Emissions Targets



Kyoto Target 2008-2012

Pledged targets under the UNFCCC [1]


8% above 1990 levels

5% below 2000 levels by 2020

15%-25% below 2000 levels by 2020 under different conditions of a global agreement that stabilizes GHG levels


6% below 1990 levels

17% below 2005 levels by 2020

European Community

EU-15: 8% below 1990 levels

EU-27: 20% below 1990 levels by 2020

30% below 1990 levels by 2020 if comparable and adequate actions by other countries


8% below 1988 levels

Part of EU

Czech Republic

8% below 1990 levels

Part of EU


8% below 1990 levels

Part of EU


6% below average1985-1987 levels

Part of EU


8% below 1990 levels

Part of EU


8% below 1990 levels

Part of EU


6% below 1988 levels

Part of EU


8% below 1989 levels

Part of EU


8% below 1990 levels

Part of EU


8% below 1986 levels

Part of EU


6% below 1990 levels

25% below 1990 levels by 2020 on condition of fair, effective international framework with ambitious targets by all major economies

New Zealand

Remain at 1990 levels

10-20% below 1990 levels by 2020 if comprehensive global agreement


Remain at 1990 levels

15-25% below 1990 levels by 2020; range depends on accounting of forestry sector and actions by all major emitters

United States


In the range of 17% below 2005 levels by 2020, in conformity with anticipated legislation


5% below 1990 levels

5% below 1990 levels by 2020, to be replaced upon EU accession (1 July 2013)


10% above 1990 levels

Same as EU target


8% below 1990 levels

Same as EU target


8% below 1990 levels

Same as EU target


1% above 1990 levels



30% below 1990 levels by 2020

40% below 1990 levels by 2020 as part of a global and comprehensive international agreement


8% below 1990 levels

Same as EU target


Remain at 1990 levels

20% below 1990 levels by 2020 under certain conditions

United Kingdom

12.5% below 1990 levels

Same as EU target



5-10% below 1990 levels by 2020, conditional on access to carbon markets, technology and capacity assistance, as well as clarity on accounting rules for forestry and land-use



15% below 1992 levels by 2020



36.1-38.9% below business-as-usual projected emissions level in 2020



20% below business-as-usual projected emissions in 2020, projected from 2007 levels, requiring international support



40-45% reduction in CO2emissions per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) from 2005 level by 2020

Costa Rica


Carbon neutral by 2021



20-25% reduction in emissions per unit of GDP (excluding agriculture sector) from 2005 level by 2020



26% below business-as-usual projected emissions in 2020



20% below business-as-usual projected emissions in 2020

41% below business-as-usual projected emissions in 2020 with international support



30% below business-as-usual projected emissions in 2020, subject to provision of adequate support

Korea (Republic of)


30% below business-as-usual projected emissions in 2020 (4% below 2005 level)



7-11% below business-as-usual projected emissions in 2020

16% below business-as-usual projected emissions in 2020, contingent on legally binding global agreement

South Africa


34% below business-as-usual projected emissions in 2020

42% below business-as-usual projected emissions in 2025, extent of implementation dependent on level of support

Marshall Islands


40% below 2009 levels by 2020 (CO2 only)



Carbon neutrality by 2020

Antigua and Barbuda


25% below 1990 levels by 2020


European Community

Kyoto Target [2] 2008-2012

EU Climate and Energy Package Effort Sharing targets for 2013-2020 [3]


13% below 1990

 16% below 2005 level


7.5% below 1990

 15% below 2005 level



20% above 2005 level

Czech Republic


 9% above 2005 level



5% below 2005 level


21% below 1990

 20% below 2005 level



11% above 2005 level


1990 levels

 16% below 2005 level


1990 levels

 14% below 2005 level


21% below 1990

 14% below 2005 level


25% above 1990

 4% below 2005 level



10% above 2005 level


13% above 1990

 20% below 2005 level


6.5% below 1990

 13% below 2005 level



17% above 2005 level



15% above 2005 level


28% below 1990

20% below 2005 level



5% above 2005 level


6% below 1990

 16% below 2005 level



14% above 2005 level


27% above 1990

 1% above 2005 level



19% above 2005 level



4% above 2005 level



13% above 2005 level


15% above 1990

 10% below 2005 level


4% above 1990

 17% below 2005 level

United Kingdom

12.5% below 1990

 16% below 2005 level



1. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 2011, FCCC/AWGLCA/2011/INF.1 and FCCC/SB/2011/INF.1/Rev.1

2. The EU-15 nations have joined a "bubble" which allows the joint fulfillment of emissions commitments and preserves the collective emissions reduction goal of 8% below 1990 levels by 2008/2012. http://europa.eu.int/eur-lex/pri/en/oj/dat/2002/l_130/l_13020020515en00010020.pdf

3. http://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/effort/index_en.htm. The EU’s collective 20% reduction target from 1990 levels translates to a 14% reduction from 2005 levels, split into sectors covered by the ETS (21% reduction) and those not covered by it (10% reduction). These targets apply to sectors not covered by the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS), such as buildings, transport, and other commercial activities. The EU ETS applies a sectoral cap and reduction target across the EU countries for emissions from power and heavy industry, and aviation from 2012. The ETS reduction target is 21% below 2005 levels by 2020.



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