– June 2, 2014
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. power sector must cut carbon dioxide emissions 30 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels, according to federal regulations unveiled on Monday that form the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s climate change strategy. The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal is one of the most significant environmental rules proposed by the United States, and could transform the power sector, which relies on coal for nearly 38 percent of electricity. It also set off a political backlash likely to run well into next year. Gina McCarthy, EPA administrator, said on Monday that between 2020 and 2030, the amount of carbon dioxide the proposal would reduce would be more than double the carbon pollution from the entire U.S. power sector in 2012.
States will have flexible means to achieve ambitious but attainable targets, regardless of their current energy mixes. States which rely heavily on coal-fired power plants are thought to have the toughest tasks ahead. “The flexibility of our Clean Power Plan affords states the choices that lead them to a healthier future. Choices that level the playing field, and keep options on the table, not off,” McCarthy said in remarks at EPA headquarters on Monday.
The plan had come under pre-emptive attack from business groups and many Republican lawmakers as well as Democrats from coal-heavy states like West Virginia before it was unveiled.
But the 645-page plan looked less restrictive than some had feared, with targets easier to reach because emissions had already fallen by about 10 percent by 2013 from the 2005 baseline level, partly due to retirement of coal plants in favor of cleaner-burning natural gas. The plan gives states multiple options to achieve their emission targets, such as improving power plant heat rates; using more natural gas plants to replace coal plants; ramping up zero-carbon energy, such as solar or nuclear; and increasing energy efficiency.
States can also use measures such as carbon cap-and-trade systems as a way to meet their goals. Share prices for major U.S. coal producers like Arch Coal, Peabody Energy and Alpha Natural Resources closed at or near multi-year lows on Monday.
Monday’s rules cap months of outreach by the EPA and White House officials to an array of interests groups. The country’s roughly 1,000 power plants, which account for nearly 40 percent of U.S. carbon emissions, face limits on carbon pollution for the first time. Climate change is a legacy issue for President Barack Obama, who has struggled to make headway on foreign and domestic policy goals since his re-election. But major hurdles remain. The EPA’s rules are expected to stir legal challenges on whether the agency has overstepped its authority. A 120-day public comment period follows the rules’ release. The National Association of Manufacturers, a long-time EPA foe, argued on Monday that the power plant plan was “a direct threat” to its members’ competitiveness.
The electric utility industry, encompassing plants that use resources from coal and natural gas to wind was more circumspect about the plan.
“While the 2030 reduction target is ambitious, it appears that utilities may be allowed to take advantage of some of their early actions,” the Edison Electric Institute said….
4 key takeaways from EPA’s new rules for power plants National Geographic News June 2 2014
What’s also striking about the rules is that for all the ambition they represent—and the plan for a 30 percent reduction in carbon emissions from 2005 levels by 2030 is ambitious—they also appear designed to lock in carbon reductions that have been under way for years. ….It could be up to 15 years before the EPA’s vision is fully realized, as states will have time to hammer out implementation plans and carry them out. But crucial decisions made over the next three years will help determine how the nation’s energy picture will change. For some states, the plan represents a continuation of business as usual; for others, it will mean a significant and possibly painful overhaul of the status quo.
Here are four key takeaways from the plan that the EPA announced Monday:
The United States is well on the way to meeting the goal of cutting carbon emissions by 30 percent. In setting the baseline for reductions at the 2005 emissions levels, the EPA is being less aggressive than it could have been. Emissions levels have been falling for years in the United States, thanks in part to the fracking boom that has boosted a nationwide shift to cleaner-burning natural gas, and to the 2008 recession, which depressed energy demand….
It’s not a great day for coal, but it’s not an immediate death knell. The EPA rules add to challenges that the coal industry has been facing for years, but they do not mandate the closure of any plant or eliminate coal from the U.S. energy picture.That said, the rules will put pressure on the industry by making coal more expensive. The industry faces higher costs one way or another: It may meet emissions targets by upgrading equipment to reduce pollution that plants emit, or if a state decides to set a cap on carbon emissions and issue permits allowing plants to pollute up to certain levels, the plants essentially would be paying extra fees to pollute.
A few states will have tough choices ahead. Many states, such as the nine Northeastern states participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and those such as California that have been moving forward with clean energy alternatives, will need to forge ahead in the same direction they are already moving. But for coal-dependent states such as Kentucky and West Virginia, and for those that have not put any kind of targets for clean energy in place, meeting the standard will be a heavier lift…..The EPA noted in its plan that 47 states already have energy efficiency programs run by utilities, and 38 states have “renewable portfolio standards,” or explicit targets for boosting the share of solar and wind on the grid. The 12 states that do not have such standards likely face a longer road ahead….
On their own, the new EPA rules won’t be enough to reduce climate change. However momentous Monday’s plan might be in the context of domestic U.S. policy to curb climate change, worldwide the plan has more symbolic value than real impact on greenhouse gas emissions. If implemented, the rules stand to keep 500 million metric tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere: a drop in the bucket compared with the 35.4 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide being emitted worldwide as of 2012.
Even so, analysts say that the United States must take the lead on reducing emissions given upcoming international negotiations on climate that will look to developing nations, including China, the world’s largest carbon emitter, to make its own commitments toward reducing pollution. China, which has said it is exploring ways to reduce emissions, did not appear to have a reaction to the EPA plan…..Ladislaw said last week before the rules were released that whatever the United States does may not be ambitious enough but that its global leadership on the issue is important. “Which follows first: the ambition, or incremental building up of capability to shore up [political] support?” she asked. “I think that’s what we’ll learn over the next year.”
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD New York Times June 2, 2014
The greenhouse gas reductions required by the Obama administration’s proposed rule on power plants will not get the world to where it has to go to avert the worst consequences of climate change. But they are likely to be enormously beneficial: good for the nation’s health, good for technological innovation, good for President Obama’s credibility abroad, and, in time, good for the planet and future generations. The proposed rule — and the importance of this cannot be overstated — signals the end of an era in which polluters could dump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere without penalty. It would set new emissions standards for America’s existing power plants, which generate 38 percent of the emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, and one-third of overall greenhouse gas emissions. The broad goal is to cut these emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. This means that many of the nation’s roughly 550 coal-fired power plants, which are much dirtier than plants powered by natural gas, will have to close or undergo expensive upgrades.
The 2030 target is ambitious but hardly unattainable. Emissions from power plants have already fallen roughly 13 percent from the 2005 baseline partly because tougher rules on pollutants like mercury have forced some coal-fired plants to close or become more efficient and partly because cheap and cleaner natural gas is edging out coal as the fuel of choice among big generators. In other words, the country is almost halfway to its goal. A recent study by M.J. Bradley, a Boston consulting firm, showed that 100 of the largest power producers steadily reduced pollutants of all kinds, including carbon dioxide, between 2008 and 2012.
If it withstands almost certain legal and legislative challenges, the rule also means that Mr. Obama’s pledge in Copenhagen in 2009 to cut America’s overall greenhouse gases by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 202o is well within reach. And it will give him leverage as he leads this country into the next round of global climate negotiations. World leaders will meet this fall in New York with an eye to producing ambitious new national emissions targets by next spring and, perhaps, a new global climate treaty by the end of 2015.
Mr. Obama’s credibility will be enhanced by the fact that he has begun this process on his own, in the face of a hostile Congress. After a bill imposing a price on carbon that passed the House in 2009 found no takers in the Senate, Mr. Obama decided to invoke executive powers to impose the kinds of limits that Congress had refused to entertain. Two Supreme Court rulings have said he has the authority under the Clean Air Act to do so.
The issue now is how tough the new standards can be and how they are to be achieved. The rule provides industry and the states — which, by law, share responsibility for carrying out the rule — with considerable flexibility. Each state will be given a reduction target tailored to its energy mix. States will be able to decide how best to meet their targets, using an array of strategies of their choosing — deploying more renewable energy sources like wind and solar and more natural gas, ramping up energy efficiency, creating regional cap-and-trade initiatives aimed at the greatest reductions at the lowest cost.
Even so, Mr. Obama and the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy, have been accused of a power grab, of governing by fiat, of declaring a war on coal. Jobs will indeed be lost in coal country and costs imposed on industry. But, over time, these jobs are likely to be replaced by new jobs created by the retrofitting of much of the current energy delivery system and by the expansion of alternative energy sources. And because the rule will also greatly reduce harmful toxic pollutants, the costs will be more than offset by health savings — by a ratio of as much as $7 in savings to every $1 invested in cleaner energy. So far, Mr. Obama’s major environmental achievement has been a set of landmark fuel economy standards that will greatly reduce automotive carbon emissions and rested on essentially the same legal authority. This new rule is his last big chance to enlarge that legacy.
By Joe Romm on June 3, 2014 at 5:41 pm
The Obama Administration took the most serious step toward limiting carbon pollution of any in history. And besides its proposed rules for power plant carbon pollution, the White House has already helped bring about an explosion in solar and wind power, along with very strong fuel economy rules negotiated with the major automakers.
But the grade the President merits for his climate policies to date is still an “I” for Incomplete until he takes two more major steps: regulate methane leaks from the natural gas production/delivery system and negotiate a serious international climate deal for the December 2015 climate talks in Paris.
Let’s start with natural gas. On Monday, the EPA proposed a 25 percent cut in electric utility CO2 emissions by 2020 (vs 2005 levels). The proposal is flexible enough to allow that target to be achieved by replacing dirty coal power with a combination of energy efficiency, renewable energy, nuclear power, and, yes, natural gas.
Fuel switching to natural gas is a sub-optimal strategy for a few reasons. We know that U.S. natural gas consumption must peak sometime between 2020 and 2030 to preserve a livable climate. So it makes little or no sense to spend any substantial amount of money on new natural gas production, delivery, and power systems simply to meet a near-term 2020 target.
The best strategy is clearly transitioning straight to energy efficiency and renewables like solar and wind, technologies that are already cost-effective enough to hit the 25 percent target without any help from natural gas — especially since we already about half the way to the target. But much of the electric utility emissions reductions we have seen to date have come from replacing coal with gas power and much of the rest of the target will certainly be met the same way because our energy policy remains shortsighted.
That brings us to the final problem with gas. Natural gas is mostly methane, and methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas, some 86 times (to as much as 105 times) as effective at trapping greenhouse gases as CO2. So even very low leakage of methane from the natural gas system wipes out its advantages over coal power for decades. The recent scientific literature — based on actual measurements of methane — reveals that methane leakage is actually quite high.
But the new EPA rules focus on power plants, by necessity, and so they don’t encompass the leaks in a methane production. Unfortunately, as a comprehensive 2014 Stanford study reconfirmed, “America’s natural gas system is leaky.” The news release explained, “A review of more than 200 earlier studies confirms that U.S. emissions of methane are considerably higher than official estimates.” So high, in fact, that, as I calculated at the time, “By The Time Natural Gas Has A Net Climate Benefit You’ll Likely Be Dead And The Climate Ruined.”….
China is the world’s biggest emitter by far — and the fastest-growing in absolute terms. It has worked as hard behind the scenes is anybody to stop a global deal. But now it seems clear that they want to curtail coal consumption simply because air pollution has gotten out of hand. And there are signals coming from China that suggest they are looking at capping total carbon emissions some time in the 2020s. And, of course, the dangerous effects of climate change are becoming more obvious every year (to those whose heads aren’t stuck in the ground). And we are coming closer and closer to irreversible tipping points according to scientific observation and analysis, such as the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet. On top of that, 2014 and then 2015 are poised to be the hottest years on record, if an El Niño forms this year. Given these unique confluence of circumstances, if Obama can’t leverage his policies and commitments to get a serious international deal, it will be prima facie evidence that he didn’t do enough. And future generations living with the multiple catastrophic impacts of a ruined climate will judge him, and all of us, as failures. And deservedly so.
June 4, 2014 George Zornick The Nation
There’s little doubt the Obama administration’s big push to cut carbon pollution, announced this week, will lead to much less coal-fired power in the United States. That’s a good thing. But what if states instead turn to natural gas-powered electricity instead? That could be a disaster for the environment….
Obama step forward on carbon undone by China’s steps back
President Barack Obama is set to take his boldest step to halt the rise of the oceans and stop the warming of the planet. It won’t be enough unless the rest of the world follows.
President Obama will use his executive authority to move forward on the most ambitious anti-global warming initiative of any U.S. president
By Pema Levy Newsweek Filed: 5/30/14 at 8:21 AM | Updated: 5/30/14 at 4:40 PM
Step aside, Keystone XL pipeline. There’s a new, bigger climate battle about to take over Washington. With Congress in gridlock and climate change deniers still dominating the Republican Party, President Obama will use his executive authority to move forward on the most ambitious anti-global warming initiative of any U.S. president. On Monday, the administration will announce new carbon pollution standards for the nation’s more than 1,000 power plants which produce 40 percent of the country’s carbon pollution — making these plants the country’s number one producer of greenhouse gases causing climate change. A New York Times report Thursday said the new rules will call for a decrease of 20 percent of plants’ emissions by 2020, a significant amount.
But like everything in Washington these days, the new rules won’t become final without a major fight, and both sides are preparing for war — in Congress, in the courts, at the state-level, even at the ballot box. “We see this as the pivotal battle on climate change,” David Goldston, Director of Government Affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental group playing a leading role in the effort, told reporters at a briefing Wednesday. “For the first time, climate is going to be front and center as the national issue. And what that means, we think, is that when this battle is over and the power plant standards are in effect, climate will have turned into an ordinary environmental issue.” Once the standards are announced, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will take comments on the proposal, make any revisions they see fit, and plan to announce a final rule in June 2015. The states will have a year after that to come up with their own plans to comply with the new standards. Throughout this process, Goldston hopes that the climate change issue will be “demystified”: politicians will learn not to fear it, Americans will come to expect action on it. The new standards, Goldston predicted, will “fundamentally change the political dynamic on climate change.”…
By Joe Romm on May 30, 2014 at 3:01 pm
Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman explains for the umpteenth time that climate action is super cheap — and that even the pro-pollution U.S. Chamber of Commerce agrees.
What would be the cost to the U.S. of moderate carbon pollution reductions, such as the emissions standards for existing power plants that the EPA will be announcing shortly? It’s a question that we always had to answer since, as everyone knows, EPA is legally obligated to issue rules regulating CO2 from existing power plants…. In his new column, Krugman repeats that point. “The U.S. economy is still depressed — and in a depressed economy many of the supposed costs of compliance with energy regulations aren’t costs at all,” he writes. “In particular, building new, low-emission power plants would employ both workers and capital that would otherwise be sitting idle, and would, if anything, give the U.S. economy a boost.” The Natural Resources Defense Council does the math in its recent economic analysis of the carbon rules, assuming they are written flexibly to encourage things like energy efficiency. NRDC finds that a well-designed rule “can save American households and business customers $37.4 billion on their electric bills in 2020 while creating more than 274,000 jobs.” This is a far more credible analysis then the one by the Chamber, not just because NRDC’s is actually consistent with the economic literature, but also because EPA appears to have been influenced by NRDC’s original proposals for how to do the rule flexibly.
By Greg Sargent Washington Post June 2 2014 at 9:09 am
With the Obama administration today set to roll out ambitious new rules on carbon emissions from existing power plants, multiple news organizations are already noting that the new push could create political problems for vulnerable Dems in 2014. So it’s worth noting that Democrats see this as a much longer battle that will likely continue through the 2016 presidential race and beyond — posing long term risks to Republicans, too. It’s true that some vulnerable Dems, particularly in coal states, will likely distance themselves from the new regulations. But as Politico reports today, Dems actually see the short term politics of this as “manageable.” Similarly, Dem strategists told me recently that Dems in tough races will have to deal with the issue but for a number of reasons the risks will largely turn out to be hyped. But the long game may matter a whole lot more. To understand how some Dems see this, look back at this Pew poll from last fall. It shows that the very voter groups who could continue giving Dems a demographic edge in national elections — the same groups that Republicans must broaden their appeal among — overwhelmingly believe there is solid evidence of global warming:
* 73% of those aged 18-29 believe it’s happening.
* 76 percent of nonwhites believe it’s happening.
* 67 percent of college educated whites believe its happening.
Meanwhile, far more Republicans remain skeptical of global warming, but this is largely driven by Tea Party Republicans. While 61 percent of non-Tea Party Republicans believe there is solid evidence of global warming, only 25 percent of Tea Party Republicans believe this….
The administration wants to get enough states supporting its Clean Power Plan to color the map mostly low-carbon green, instead of coal black.
By John H. Cushman Jr., InsideClimate News Jun 5, 2014
At the core of Obama’s plan to control greenhouse gas emissions from more than 1,000 power plants is a strategy resembling that of a presidential campaign in search of electoral votes.
The administration wants to get enough states on board to color the map mostly low-carbon green, instead of coal black.
To that end, it has designed a policy that seems intended to isolate the fiercest pockets of resistance, winning over as many fence-sitting states as possible.
That would make it harder for his opponents to paint this regulation of carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act as a heavy-handed federal intrusion.
“It is going to be important to have a critical mass of states being supportive,” said Travis Madsen, a global warming campaigner at Environment America, a federation of state-based advocacy groups. “If too many states decide they will not cooperate, it’s hard to say what might happen. The more states cooperate or act supportively, the more likely we will succeed.”
The greenest states would be California and most of those in the Northeast. With their cap-and-trade markets already up and running, these are the poster children for the highly flexible regulatory approach the EPA is pushing.
Leaning their way are states like Oregon and Washington, which are already planning to join forces with California (and British Columbia) in a regional alliance of the kind the EPA is encouraging.
Even states like Pennsylvania or Ohio might not balk if, together with their big power companies, they can figure out an advantageous path. A Kansas or an Iowa, where wind power is pushing ahead, or a place like sunny Nevada, where solar is making strides, could take on a greener tinge.
The blackest states would be places like West Virginia, Kentucky, North Dakota and Wyoming, where dependence on coal is highest, alternatives are fewer and political opposition is red hot….