Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Final Clean Power Plan

On August 3, 2015, President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy announced the Clean Power Plan the regulations that the EPA is has finalized after proposing in a slightly weaker form last year under section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act to cut carbon emissions from existing power plants by 32%.

Thought there are expected to be legal challenges to the regulation, since it appears that the 1560 page rule is an expansion of the scope of existing laws and there are significant fiscal implications of the regulation across the economy. Nonetheless, the states must provide a plan for achieving that limit that is acceptable to the EPA by September 6, 2016. Mandatory emission reductions must begin in 2022 and will be phased in through 2030. All states and affected electric generating units must meet the final emission performance rates or equivalent state goals by 2030 and maintain that level thereafter.

The EPA is offering “incentives” to early adopters. The EPA is ensuring early adoption of plans so that even if legal challenges prevail, the rule cannot be undone. The EPA is ensuring early adoption of plans so that even if legal challenges prevail, the rule cannot be undone. EPA is providing a Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP) to reward early investments in renewable energy generation that generate carbon dioxide-free electricity or demand-side energy efficiency measures that reduce end-use energy demand like electrical meters that can shut down certain appliances during periods of peak demand.

As expected a number of states attorneys general have already announced their intention to file a lawsuit challenging the Clean Power Plan. In addition, there is the Congressional Review Act. This act passed during the Clinton administration allows Congress to disapprove and vacate new regulations. The Congressional Review Act. operates essentially like any other legislation. Majority votes in both the house and senate are required. In addition the legislation would need presidential approval or enough votes to override a presidential veto. Also, once it has received a final regulation, Congress only has a limited time period in which to introduce a joint resolution of disapproval for that regulation, so it seems an approach unlikely to succeed.

The most likely challenge will be when the challenging states request the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to block implementation of the carbon rules while the litigation proceeds. A final legal decision will come after appeals to the Supreme Court long after 2016. So, preventing the rule from going into effect during the court battle is the only way for the states to fight this regulation. We have become a nation shaped by lawsuits which is a tragedy for our country.

As far as I can tell the main changes to the final rule were to create a nationally consistent standard for each type of electrical generating plant. This is consistent with one of the purposes of section 111 of the Clean Air Act- to create nationally uniform standards that do not favor one region or state over another. The final rule’s “best systems of emission reductions” focuses only supply‐side measures that reduce CO2 emissions from power plants, and does mandate demand‐side energy efficiency as a building block. Nonetheless, EPA states that they anticipate that, due to its low costs and potential in every state, demand‐side energy efficiency will be a significant component of state plans under the Clean Power Plan. As a matter of fact, EPA states in their cost analysis that due to increased energy efficiency reducing consumer demand, the Clean Power Plan is projected to reduce electric bills by about $7 per month by 2030 despite electric prices that are forecast to increase.

In the “Criteria for Approving State Plans” the EPA identified the following as necessary components of an approvable state plan:

1. The plan must contain legally enforceable measures that reduce electrical generation units CO2 emissions;

2. The projected CO2 emission performance by each electrical generating units must be equivalent to or better than the required CO2 emission performance level in the state plan;

This results in a zero sum game where states cannot provide case specific relief. The guidelines negate the flexibility of the routes to compliance. EPA is requiring states to demonstrate how they are actively engaging with communities in their initial and final plans. So if you have an interest in the changes in how electricity is generated and used in our county, you should be able to go to community meetings.

The main goals of this proposed regulation is reducing the amount of electricity generated from coal fired power plant, increasing the speed of adoption of renewable CO2 free electrical generation sources, and reducing the overall demand for electricity. Personally I object to the amount of federal oversight and coercion. Power plants are the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States accounting for about 33% of greenhouse gas release (and slightly more of carbon dioxide). Greenhouse gases are: carbon dioxide (CO2), fluorinated gases, nitrous oxide and methane (CH4). According to the EPA CO2 represents 84% of mass of greenhouse gas emissions and that the climate models indicate to be the cause of climate change. The new regulations will require power plants to cut their CO2 emissions by 32% from 2005 levels by using a combination of approaches approved by the EPA and give the Secretary Kerry tools for negotiating a binding CO2 reduction plan to replace the Kyoto Treaty at the upcoming Paris Climate talks. (In late November 2015, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will convene in Paris, France, in hopes of reaching a global agreement to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.)

With this regulation the EPA is now taking control of the power generation sector of the economy to remake that industry in a less carbon intensive and more efficient vision. These regulations are likely to increase the cost and possibly limit the availability of electricity, but are also intended to reduce the use of electricity. These are centralized big government solutions, that I personally bristle at. I am one of the many who prefer a carbon tax to EPA's command and control regulations. I do not believe the EPA's way is the best way for the United States to cut their CO2 generation.

A "carbon tax" is a much clearer connection for people between their behavior, their wallet and the planet. Taxing the carbon content of products including electricity is a more direct method to control CO2 generation and more effective method of reducing CO2 production without regulators taking control of a significant segment of the economy and could be applied to imports. However, a direct tax must come from the legislature, not regulation, and would have to be negotiated and vetted by the elected representatives of the people. It would certainly generate badly needed revenue for our government that is running at a huge deficit.

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