EPA Open to Interim Goal Changes in Final Power Plant Rules, McCarthy Says

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By Anthony Adragna

Feb. 17 — The Environmental Protection Agency remains open to modifying interim targets for reducing carbon emissions under final rules for existing power plants but believes interim goals are necessary to ensure states get on a path to meeting their long-term goals, Administrator Gina McCarthy said Feb. 17.

McCarthy, speaking at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners winter meeting, said the EPA is looking “very closely” at comments from a number of states expressing concerns the interim goals are too aggressive and could compromise the flexibility sought for states in the Clean Air Act regulation (RIN 2060-AR33).

“While states can craft their own glide path, we want to make sure they hit the targets that we need and they’re going to be effective strategies,” McCarthy said. “We clearly need to make sure there is trajectory towards a goal that is as far away as 2030 and that there is an ability to ensure that states are actively working and on a trajectory to achieve that final goal.”

McCarthy said the agency intends to finalize its new source performance standards for existing power plants under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act by mid-summer, but she cautioned, “I will not squander the opportunity to get it done right because I’ve talked about a specific date.”

The EPA's proposal, released in June 2014 (79 Fed. Reg. 34,830), would set state-specific goals for reducing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. The proposal includes interim emissions rate targets to be met between 2020 and 2029 and a final goal for each state that applies beginning in 2030.

According to the EPA, the proposed standards could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

On Jan. 7, the EPA announced it would delay its time frame for finalizing carbon pollution regulations for new, existing and modified/reconstructed power plants to mid-summer. The agency now plans to finalize those rules at the same time due to “cross-cutting topics” raised in public comments.

Affordability, Reliability Remain Key Pillars 

McCarthy said the two main pillars driving the regulation are maintaining affordable and reliable electricity while preserving flexibility for states to craft their own approaches to meet goals.

The EPA continues to solicit comments and engage in dialogue with a variety of groups on the rule for existing power plants, which she describes as in the “awkward,” “teenage” stage that occurs “in between our baby proposal and adult final.”

Asked specifically about how nuclear energy would be treated under the rules, McCarthy said the agency sought to ensure the greatest possible carbon reductions without excluding any energy sources.

“What we tried to do in my world was to look at where the opportunities were for carbon pollution and lay open a number of strategies that would allow all types of power to compete,” McCarthy said. “There was no intent to exclude any, including nuclear. EPA is not going to tip our hand on the scale. That’s not my job.”

Close Attention to Notice 

McCarthy said the agency is paying attention to comments submitted on an October 2014 notice of data availability on issues raised by state and industry groups on the proposed rule.

Among the issues included in that notice were how to allow states to take credit for early actions to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, the possibility of setting a multiyear baseline for state emissions rates and how to expand use of natural gas-fired power plants. 

A number of states have expressed concern with the EPA's approach in the proposed rule because it would require states to reduce the bulk of their emissions early, leaving limited flexibility for how to achieve later reductions.

“We’ll try to be a lot more specific in the final rule, so states can develop their final plans with the certainty they’re looking for,” McCarthy said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Anthony Adragna in Washington at aadragna@bna.com

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