SACE Meets with EPA on New Carbon Rule

Stephen Smith | June 13, 2014 | Coal, Energy Policy
SACE and other regional advocates at EPA Region 4 in Atlanta
SACE and other regional advocates at EPA Region 4 in Atlanta

A handful of advocates from the Southeast traveled to Atlanta on Thursday June 12th to meet with officials from the EPA’s Region 4 office.  SACE was joined by other regional advocates Greenlaw, Southern Environmental Law Center, Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance, Environment Georgia, Sierra Club, South Carolina Conservation Voters, Southface, Natural Resources Defense Council and USCAN. We met with with Beverly Banister, the Director of Region 4’s Air, Pesticides, and Toxics Management Division; Brian Myers, Associate General Counsel; Carol Kemker, Deputy Director of  the Air, Pesticides and Toxics Management Division for Region 4 and Jeaneanne Gettle, also Deputy Director; along with several other EPA staff.

We met to discuss the newly released Clean Power Plan, which focuses on regulating carbon pollution from existing electric power plants under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act.  This proposed rule is both historic and long overdue, and is currently under evaluation with a public comment period that will last 120 days.  EPA will host four public hearings across the country during the week of July 28th during which registered participants may share their thoughts on the proposed rule. Atlanta will host the first of these meetings on July 29th – you can register to speak at that hearing here.  For a quick overview of the rule, you can access EPA’s fact sheets on the Clean Power Plan here.

I want to state clearly that is was incredibly refreshing to meet with a group of dedicated and professional government staff who despite the vocal opposition by science-denying politicians and their financial backers are moving forward to address climate change. It’s easy to be disheartened, knowing the seriousness and scale of the problem and hearing those who have a vested interest in the status quo or who are ideologically motivated attempt to confuse and prevent the human species from addressing pollution that is disrupting our planet’s climate.  No doubt EPA staff will be criticized throughout the rule’s development, but as a father and a grandfather, I was deeply appreciative and very happy to see the level of commitment and dedication that has gone into this proposed rule. It’s long overdue, but we are finally on a path to positive. While this rule will not completely solve the problem, it does move the U.S. back into a credible position in the international community on addressing carbon pollution. As we look forward to the rule becoming finalized and the important international climate meetings in Paris in 2015 we may finally be moving in a direction to address this critical issue at a level commensurate with the problem.

Our mission at yesterday’s meeting was to gain a better understanding of the proposed rule and begin a dialogue with the EPA representatives on how they envision the public comment period will go and how best to provide input and feedback on the rule.  From SACE’s perspective, we believe that the proposed rule is a good start. It is well thought out and appears to be legally sound, which is important because it will undoubtedly be challenged by naysayers and industry types who will oppose EPA’s efforts to control carbon pollution. We’ve already had to respond to opposition in the Southeast; there are a few examples here and here.

A little more on the rule

The new rule is built around Section 111 of the Clean Air Act, which uses Best System of Emission Reduction (BSER).  When determining the BSER, EPA considers cost of emission reduction, technical feasibility as well as other factors.  EPA had the choice of setting BSER on a plant-level basis (individual coal plants/units), a fleet-level basis (across a state’s entire coal plant fleet) or a system-level basis (across all of a state’s energy resources, including energy efficiency resources).

 

Source: Center for Climate and Energy Solutions

 

The Clean Power Plan establishes BSER as a system-level approach.  Using this BSER methodology, EPA has determined four building blocks for how states can reduce their emissions system wide:

1) Increase efficiency of existing coal-fired plants

2) Increase utilization of natural gas

3) Increase utilization of renewables and nuclear

4) Increase the amount of energy efficiency

To be clear, states do not need to use each of these building blocks to comply with the Clean Power Plan. Instead, EPA has used these four building blocks as the BSER for reducing carbon pollution from existing coal-fired power plants. These four building blocks can be mixed and matched in different ways, which gives states lots of flexibility for how they want to comply with the rule as they develop their unique State Implementation Plans (SIPs). These categories were also used to determine each states’ target reduction. Some states will be required to reduce emissions by as much as 50%, some states as little as 17%. These reductions are largely tied to the year 2012 baseline.

Below are the 2012 emission rates as well as the proposed EPA state emission rate goals for our Southeast states:

* SACE does not actively work in these states

SACE is actively reviewing the 645 pages of the proposed rule and the supplemental support documents, and over the course of the coming months we will be providing additional info in the form of blogs, webinars, and materials for our supporters and members to better understand this important rule. Our initial analysis suggests that while the rule is technically sound, the goals set in the Southeast for energy efficiency and renewables are too weak. We will be providing detailed comments to EPA on how to strengthen these elements and we will be communicating with state governments about why we believe these will be the most economic tools for states in our region to become compliant with the rule.

For the first of our briefings on the Clean Power Plan, join us for a webinar this Monday, June 16th at 1pm ET hosted by our Southeast Energy Research Attorney, Angela Garrone. This webinar will provide an introduction to the proposed 111(d) regulations, explain what this means for utilities and regulators in the Southeast, and how you and your organization can be involved in this rule-making process.

Stephen Smith
Dr. Stephen A. Smith has 30 years of experience effecting change for the environment. Since 1993, Dr. Smith has led the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) as its executive…
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