Under Section 111 of the Clean Air Act, the EPA has authority to lay out distinct approaches for new and existing stationary sources of air pollution. Section 111 (b) is the federal program to establish standards for new, modified, and reconstructed sources. The EPA has proposed Carbon Pollution Standards [Clean Air Act Section 111(b)] for new, modified, and reconstructed power plants and will release final rules this coming summer. Section 111 (d) is a state-based program for existing sources, in which the EPA sets guidelines and then the states develop programs to meet these guidelines and achieve the needed reductions. In June of 2014, the EPA proposed the Clean Power Plan [Clean Air Act Section 111(d)] under President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. The Clean Power Plan is described as a commonsense plan to cut carbon emissions from existing power plants. The Clean Power Plan “will maintain an affordable, reliable energy system, while cutting pollution and protecting our health and environment now and for future generations.” The agency’s proposal is flexible; states and businesses with forward plans to more efficient, cleaner power fleets can integrate these to meet state- or region-specific goals.
Why? Power plants are the largest concentrated source of carbon dioxide emissions in the US, making up approximately 1/3rd of domestic GHG emissions. There are currently no limits on national carbon pollution levels. And if you didn’t know… carbon pollution is a GHG, which is contributing to increased global temperatures! In combination with a warmer world, soot and smog are dangerous to our health! FYI: “Fossil fuel-fired power plants are responsible for 70 percent of the nation’s sulfur dioxide emissions, 13 percent of nitrogen oxide emissions, and 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels” (EPA Air Emissions). And methane is released with incomplete combustion and from leaks during transport (Just in case you were more worried about GHGs other than CO2… you should be!).
$$$? By 2030, the EPA predicts a reduction in carbon emissions from the power sector of 30% (about 730 million metric tonnes of carbon pollution) and in smog pollution of 25% from 2005 levels with implementation of the Clean Power Plan. The EPA argues the climate and health benefits will far outweigh the costs of the plan. “The Clean Power Plan has public health and climate benefits worth an estimated $55 billion to $93 billion per year in 2030, far outweighing the costs of $7.3 billion to $8.8 billion.”
Setting State Goals: Each state’s goal is different, based on the unique mix of emissions and power sources. The formula for the state goal = (CO2 emissions from fossil fuel-fired power plants in lbs.) divided by (state electricity generation from fossil-fuel fired power plants + certain low- or zero-emitting power sources in megawatt hours). For example, VT does not have fossil fuels fired power plants and therefore no goals are proposed… Woo hoo VT! Check out other states here: http://cleanpowerplanmaps.epa.gov/CleanPowerPlan/
How to Achieve Goals: The EPA suggests 4 methods to meeting the goals: 1) Increase efficiency at coal plants with upgrades 2) Switch from coal-powered plants to less carbon-intensive plants 3) Expand investments in renewable energy 4) Increase energy efficiency in homes, buildings and industries.
Backlash: Many states feel the EPA is overstepping its authority and few have sued. If the states do not submit a compliance plan or apply for an extension by the summer of 2016, the EPA will impose a federal plan to those states. It is likely that federal plans will result in higher electricity costs for consumers (Inside Climate News 2015).
So it’s time to get everyone on board! But, is this where we should focus our efforts? The IR waves that CO2 absorbs has already reached band saturation and we’ve learned that other GHGs (like methane) will have a greater impact on warming. But, these fossil fuel fired plants have plenty of other emitted pollutants that we need to curb. The US seems to be a bit behind on cleaning up our emissions, but we have to start somewhere, right?
Most info from EPA website and factsheets: <http://www2.epa.gov/carbon-pollution-standards/clean-power-plan-proposed-rule>
Info on emission sources in US (EPA Air Emissions): <http://www.epa.gov/cleanenergy/energy-and-you/affect/air-emissions.html>
Inside Climate News: <http://insideclimatenews.org/news/26022015/why-states-rejecting-epas-clean-power-plan-could-face-bigger-rate-hikes>