In the News  Archive

Planned Carbon Standard for Existing Plants Should Embrace Regional Models, EPA Told

Ocotber 23, 2013

By John Herzfeld

Oct. 23 — Regional collaborations by state governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions should serve as a model for the Environmental Protection Agency as it begins developing a proposed rule to regulate carbon dioxide from existing power plants, a New York state official told the agency.

Speaking Oct. 23 in New York at the first of 11 “listening sessions” scheduled by the EPA before proceeding with the rule, Jared Snyder, assistant commissioner at the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, urged the agency to take a comprehensive regional approach that reflects the contours of electricity grids reaching beyond state borders. Snyder also represented the multistate Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

The EPA listening sessions are intended to gather views and information to help the EPA develop the proposed emissions standards, which are part of a climate action plan announced by President Obama in June. The series was set to open earlier in Boston and Philadelphia, but the October government shutdown forced the agency to redraw the schedule (190 DEN A-5, 10/1/13).

The standards would take the form of guidelines for states, which administer controls on existing power plants, under the relatively rarely used Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, John Filippelli, director of the EPA Region 2 Clean Air and Sustainability Division, told the meeting.

EPA Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck said one of the goals of the listening sessions is to learn from the experiences of states and cities, which she called “incubators for innovation.”

Penalizing ‘Early Movers.’

Snyder urged that the EPA plan give “equitable treatment to early movers like RGGI” in setting performance targets that would recognize actions already taken but “not inadvertently penalize” them.

Any plan developed by the EPA should allow the RGGI states to continue with their market-based cap-and-trade program and allow other states to follow their example, Snyder said.

David Bronston, a board member of the Adirondack Council, a conservation group that has participated in RGGI auctions, backed the regional approach.

Saying that RGGI “should be accepted as a compliance entity” under any new standards, he continued: “There is no need to look further for a compliance solution. RGGI has been operational for four years and is looking for more partners.”

Bronston said RGGI fits the definition of “the best system of emissions reductions” that the EPA requires under Section 111 of the Clean Air Act.

In other presentations at the listening session, a representative of the American Petroleum Institute said that the planned rulemaking goes beyond the agency's legal authority, and a representative of the Natural Resources Defense Council argued that “substantial reductions” in emissions from existing plants are possible under the law, “at modest costs and with huge benefits.”

Howard J. Feldman, API director of regulatory and scientific affairs, said that the EPA “is not compelled” to proceed with the proposed rule but should, at most, develop an advance notice of proposed rulemaking.

Legal Basis Questioned

Feldman argued that the agency hasn't made a legal determination that greenhouse gases from power plants make a significant contribution to endangerment of public health and is “flatly wrong” that it can regulate GHG emissions from existing power plants under Section 111(d).

David Hawkins, climate programs director at NRDC, called for a rule “that treats existing fossil power plants the way their owners treat them—not as individual pieces of equipment but as part of a connected system.”

The “lowest possible cost” of cutting emissions, he said, could be achieved by counting all remedial actions toward compliance, including installing new equipment, shifting generation from dirty plants to low- and zero-emitting power sources and taking energy efficiency steps.

He said NRDC “hopes that EPA will not be deterred by the predictable opposition from America's biggest polluters” from pursuing “ambitious power plant standards” that he said would satisfy 80 percent of the Obama administration's commitment to cut U.S. carbon pollution 17 percent by 2020.

Click for more information about the EPA listening sessions

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