EPA Responds to States, Provides Useful Information for Developing Cost-Effective Programs to Reduce Carbon Pollution

By Pam Kiely and Nicholas Bianco

Earlier today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released several draft  documents designed to provide additional information for states and other stakeholders as they work together to reduce emissions of carbon pollution from power plants.

EPA notes that making these working drafts available:

[A]llows us to share our work to date and to respond to the states that have requested information prior to the end of the Administration.

The materials provide valuable insights that can be used by states currently implementing or considering developing their own programs for reducing carbon pollution, and can be leveraged as states evaluate ongoing state policy efforts to achieve pollution reductions under the Clean Power Plan.

The Clean Power Plan establishes America’s first ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants. Once implemented, it will provide essential protections for public health and the environment – saving up to 3,600 lives each year and delivering up to $54 billion in annual climate and health benefits – while also reducing electricity bills for American families.

These documents reflect extensive public input and engagement as well as decades of practical experience reducing air pollution at the state and federal level. They provide constructive information in response to direct requests for this type of material made by states who are interested in having the best information available as they undertake their own planning, public engagement, and regulatory initiatives.

A letter submitted to EPA by 14 states  requested “additional information and assistance” to help states “prudently plan for and implement a variety of state and federal obligations” because many states, as well as their stakeholders, understand that continuing to navigate the dynamic transition underway today in the power sector requires comprehensively evaluating and integrating state policy priorities with their best understanding of existing and future federal policy.

While the Supreme Court has stayed enforcement of the Clean Power Plan, EPA’s provision of helpful information in response to this letter is entirely consistent with actions taken by past Republican and Democratic Administrations to provide clarification and information on Clean Air Act rules that had been stayed by the courts.

States such as Pennsylvania and Colorado have recently underscored their commitment to continuing state-driven efforts to address climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, while more than a dozen power companies have continued to affirm that the transition to cleaner energy resources and progress toward de-carbonization of the electric sector is ongoing.

State officials and many companies keenly understand that prudent evaluation of the federal policy landscape, and ongoing deployment of no-regrets strategies and investments that well-position them to meet declining limits on carbon pollution, make sense. Additional information about options for Clean Power Plan implementation will only facilitate sensible alignment of state efforts already underway.

EPA released four draft documents today:

  1. Draft state models to help policymakers and regulators develop state-specific strategies to realize the benefits and achieve the emissions reduction targets in the Clean Power Plan. The draft models outline two highly flexible approaches for reducing carbon pollution in a cost-effective manner. By providing these models, EPA is helping to facilitate state innovation and the realization of pollution reductions aligned with state policies and prerogatives. These models provide greater clarity about practical implementation considerations so that states have the best information available about cost-effective opportunities to reduce climate pollution as they move ahead navigating, and helping to facilitate, the transition underway in the power sector.
  2. Draft EM&V Guidance for Demand-Side Energy Efficiency. EPA published draft guidance that states can use if they decide to implement demand-side energy efficiency projects. This guidance details methods for ensuring that project developers deliver high quality projects by providing options for monitoring and verification procedures that states can adopt if they are interested. Such support is extremely valuable, particularly when one considers that energy efficiency projects routinely deliver $2 in savings for Americans for every $1 invested, and in some cases up to $5 for every $1 invested.
  3. Draft Clean Power Plan Tracking Systems White Paper. EPA released draft materials designed to further assist states by providing information about how a tracking system could be designed to facilitate administration of the program. In so doing, EPA further demonstrates the relative ease with which a state can administer a flexible, cost-effective program to achieve carbon pollution reductions.
  4. Draft Technical Support Document: Leakage Requirement. If choosing to adopt a mass-based emission budget trading program instead of other program alternatives, this document  provides valuable information for addressing emissions leakage and securing the emissions reductions contemplated by the Best System of Emission Reduction. In addition to the streamlined approach for leakage mitigation that EPA finalized in the Clean Power Plan (using larger state budgets with the “new source complement” and including all fossil sources in the program), the working draft helpfully outlines a set of sample strategies that states could potentially use to guarantee the expected emissions outcome of their program, depending on particular state circumstances. The draft document notes the expectation that any strategy will include a process for performing periodic evaluations and look-backs that states and EPA could use to ensure the effectiveness of those measures. It also discusses the value of establishing mechanisms to address any shortcomings in performance. Together these measures underscore the importance of continuing to ensure on an ongoing basis that state program design secures the expected level of emissions reductions, and highlights the many options available to do so.

These draft materials build on decades of experience that EPA and states have in successfully implementing flexible compliance programs to reduce air pollution and drive innovation, and they show how these approaches can be applied for the Clean Power Plan. These same flexible frameworks have been used to reduce emissions under other Clean Air Act standards at a fraction of the cost that opposing parties have claimed –  and there is strong evidence that this will hold true for the Clean Power Plan as well (for examples see here, here, and here).

Climate pollution from the electricity sector has already fallen 21 percent below 2005 levels – which means America is already almost two-thirds of the way towards the 2030 Clean Power Plan emission targets. Emissions reductions and clean energy investments are widespread across states and power companies – even those that may be opposed to the Clean Power Plan itself. Analysis conducted for EDF by M.J. Bradley & Associates found that all 27 litigating states can comply with the Clean Power Plan just by leveraging already planned investments coupled with flexible compliance programs. Many of the power companies litigating against the Clean Power Plan are also well positioned to reach their targets, thanks to the increasingly low cost of lower- and zero-carbon generation.

While this progress is encouraging, the analyses also show that the Clean Power Plan has an essential role to play in ensuring that reasonable protections from climate pollution are realized. With the release of today’s draft documents, EPA is responding to the request by states, power companies, and other stakeholders to share lessons learned for flexible cost-effective implementation of the Clean Power Plan. These insights will prove to be valuable to states at all stages of planning for a low-carbon future.

 

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