EPA: Power Plan a Chance to Change Energy Dialogue

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By Rachel Leven

Sept. 10 — The Clean Power Plan presents a unique opportunity to shift how states and companies think about energy, but it won't be a “silver bullet” for all environmental justice issues related to power plants, an Environmental Protection Agency official said Sept. 10.

The EPA's landmark rule is intended to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, meaning that other pollutant emissions aren't required to be reduced under the rule, Kevin Culligan, an EPA associate division director, told justice advocates. But as states and companies think about how to comply with the rule, it provides them a “real opportunity” to look at their actions in “a larger energy-planning kind of way,” alongside other environmental mandates, he said during the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council's meeting in Arlington, Va.

“There isn't a single silver bullet” for resolving environmental justice concerns, Culligan said, urging justice advocates to harness all parts of the Clean Air Act and other laws to resolve these overburdened communities' other pollutant concerns.

“The real opportunity here is not that the Clean Power Plan itself can solve all of the concerns about all of the power plants … but in many ways, [the opportunity is] that it changed the dialogue” to think holistically, Culligan said.

The EPA released on Aug. 3 its final Clean Power Plan rule (RIN 2060-AR33), which sets state-specific power sector carbon dioxide emissions rates or alternatively mass-based targets. States must develop their own plans to meet these goals, which are phased in between 2022 and 2030. In order to receive an extension to develop and submit those plans, the states must demonstrate they have addressed overburdened communities as part of the planning process.

Benefits for EJ Communities 

Culligan made his remarks following—and in response to—comments from several environmental justice advocates on the final rule, some of whom called for the EPA to do more to protect overburdened communities.

While council member Vernice Miller-Travis praised both the agency and justice advocates for their involvement in developing a rule that culminated in a strong environmental justice focus, council member Nicky Sheats and others said that the rule didn't ensure that overburdened communities received the benefits.

Justice advocates have expressed concern that actions such as carbon trading could result in increased activity at certain power plants, resulting in higher emissions for those communities, and the EPA moved to address those issues in its final rule.

“The rule does a good job of saying ‘we don’t want disproportionate impacts in overburdened communities,' ” Sheats said. “But what we really want is [an emissions] reduction in [environmental justice] communities.”

Several members of the council called for the EPA to encourage states to ensure that these communities saw reduced emissions locally, to establish clear investment and outcome metrics for state plans and to ensure that communities have the knowledge to engage with industry and states effectively on state plans as they are developed.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rachel Leven in Washington at rleven@bna.com

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