EPA Air Quality Grants Will Be Available to Implement Power Plant Carbon Rule

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By Patrick Ambrosio

March 16 — Federal grants to support state and local air quality management programs will be available for implementing regulations on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, even if Congress does not provide additional funding that was requested by President Barack Obama, the Environmental Protection Agency's top air official said March 16.

Janet McCabe, the EPA's assistant administrator for air and radiation, told state environmental officials that those grant funds are available to states to use to implement their work under the Clean Air Act. While Congress ultimately will act on the EPA's funding, the president's budget request reflected that states will need more funding than what is currently available to implement the agency's Clean Power Plan, she said. McCabe spoke at the spring meeting of the Environmental Council of the States in Washington.

The proposed version of the Clean Power Plan (RIN 2060-AR33) included emissions rate goals for each state and four “building blocks” that states could use to meet those targets, including investment in renewable energy generation and expanding the use of natural gas-fired generating capacity.

It will be a challenge for states to adequately implement the Clean Power Plan rule without an increase in state grants, Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, said in a March 16 email to Bloomberg BNA.

“While we appreciate the flexibility of using existing grants to cover new climate planning activities, the fact of the matter is funding for our basic, core programs is already seriously deficient,” Becker said.

The president's fiscal year 2016 budget request included $268.2 million for state and local air quality management grants, a $40 million increase from the fiscal 2015 enacted level. The budget request specified that $25 million of that additional funding would be dedicated to implementing the Clean Power Plan.

States Support Funding Increase 

Becker said NACAA recommends that Congress provide EPA with a $40 million increase for the air grant program but that states be given flexibility in how they spend the money instead of requiring $25 million be allocated to the Clean Power Plan.

Clint Woods, executive director of the Association of Air Pollution Control Agencies, told Bloomberg BNA in a March 16 email that states have concerns about taking on a resource-intensive Clean Power Plan implementation effort while still carrying out core Clean Air Act programs.

“There are many decisions the Agency will be making in the final rule that will help determine the scope, timing, and cost for state regulators as they pivot to consider their options,” Woods said.

No Details on Federal Plan 

McCabe declined to share details on the model federal implementation plan (FIP) the EPA is working on for the Clean Power Plan. The agency in January announced plans to release a proposed FIP alongside regulations covering new, existing and modified/reconstructed power plants by “mid-summer” of 2015.

The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to issue a FIP to cover states that don't submit adequate state implementation plans (SIPs). The proposed federal plan also is expected to aid states in crafting SIPs once the Clean Power Plan is finalized.

When asked how the EPA will issue a proposed FIP at a time when the agency does not know which states it will apply to, McCabe said the agency is considering “variation” between the states in developing a proposed model federal plan.

McCabe said she assumes many states will submit SIPs for the Clean Power Plan, and the EPA will be looking at how to implement the best system of emissions reduction for “whatever states” do not submit valid plans.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) recently called on states to “hold back” on submitting plans for complying with the Clean Power Plan to give Congress more time to act on efforts to block the legislation and to allow litigation on the legality of the rule to proceed.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Ambrosio in Washington at pambrosio@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com