Clean Power Plan — Final Rule in Federal Register and Two Explainers

40 CFR Part 60 [EPA-HQ-OAR-2013-0602; FRL-XXXX-XX-OAR] RIN 2060-AR33
Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units
AGENCY: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
ACTION: Final rule.

[Brad Plumer at VoxObama’s climate agenda involves a whole slew of rules and regulations.

Broadly speaking, President Obama’s climate-change plan boils down to a simple set of numbers. The United States is currently taking part in international talks to address global warming. And as part of those talks, the Obama administration has vowed that US greenhouse-gas emissions will decline 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025:

That’s not an easy task. As of 2013, US greenhouse gas emissions had fallen just 8.5 percent below 2005 levels, a drop that largely happened due to the recession, to a natural-gas boom that pushed out dirtier coal power, and to a rise in vehicle efficiency. But that’s still not enough. And more recently, emissions have started creeping up again. Plus, Congress has no interest in passing climate legislation of any sort.

So, to push emissions down even further, the Obama administration has been issuing an array of new rules and regulations through the EPA and other executive-branch agencies. A partial list includes:

  • Stricter fuel-economy standards for cars and light trucks, which will steadily rise through 2025.
  • Stricter fuel-economy standards for heavy trucks, buses, and vans, which will steadily rise through 2027.
  • Proposed CO2 emission standards for any new coal- and gas-fired power plants built in the United States. This rule, when finalized, will make it extremely difficult to build any new coal plants that don’t capture and bury their carbon-dioxide emissions (a still-nascent technology).
  • Standards to curtail methane leaks from all new oil and gas wells, as well as voluntary partnerships to limit methane from agriculture.
  • Various initiatives to curtail hydrofluorocarbons, another potent greenhouse gas used in air-conditioners and refrigeration.

None of the above has gone through Congress — most of it is being done under legal authority that the Supreme Court granted the EPA back in 2007.

[Michael Levi at the Council on Foreign Relations’ Energy, Security and Climate blog] …The new rules are an important step forward but certainly not without their flaws. Here are five important things, good and bad, that today’s dueling press releases might not tell you.

This is an impressively creative “save” given legal and political realities – particularly on the international front

The President’s proposed regulations on existing power plants (released last year; today’s rules are the final version) were central to meeting the U.S. target of a 17 percent emissions cut below 2005 levels by 2020. But the EPA received extensive feedback from industry and analysts claiming that meeting the 2020 goals proposed in the draft rule would require a dangerously rapid transformation of the U.S. electricity system late this decade. This apparently led the EPA to delay the first year during which states must comply with the new rule from 2020 to 2022. But that left a big problem: the United States would be unlikely to deliver on its international commitment to cut emissions 17 percent by 2020.

So the administration came up with a clever save: a proposed “Clean Energy Incentive Program” that will reward states that cut emissions in 2020 and 2021 by in essence giving them weaker targets from 2022 to 2030. In principle, if states fully utilize that program, the United States will still be in the neighborhood of meeting its economy-wide 2020 target. (“In the neighborhood” because there’s enough uncertainty in the U.S. energy system to make 2020 emissions unpredictable even with the best policies possible.) At the same time, the EPA strengthened its emissions targets for 2030, offsetting the new headroom created by the incentive program and keeping projected 2025 emissions similar to those in the draft plan.

None of this matters much when it comes to aggregate emissions. But it matters a lot for how the United States is seen internationally. On that count, the administration deserves applause.

No one really knows whether the United States will meet its 2020 target

The biggest weakness in the draft Clean Power Plan was its vulnerability to litigation. In particular, its emissions targets were determined in part by calculating how much emissions could be reduced through improved energy efficiency, a tactic that made the whole rule vulnerable to being struck down by the courts. (This is ostensibly a rule governing power plants, but power plants can’t improve consumer efficiency.) The administration wisely ditched that element, leaving the plan on much firmer legal ground.


One thought on “Clean Power Plan — Final Rule in Federal Register and Two Explainers

  1. Pingback: This Week in the RFF Library Blog : Common Resources

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