EPA Unsure About Deadline Extensions for State Clean Power Plan Compliance

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By Andrew Childers

April 10 — The Environmental Protection Agency is open to revising interim carbon dioxide emissions reductions targets in its Clean Power Plan, but that doesn't necessarily mean it will grant states additional time to comply, Administrator Gina McCarthy said.

The EPA has repeatedly said it would be open to revising those interim targets in response to concerns raised by states that those early targets, which must be met between 2020 and 2029, are too stringent. However, McCarthy stopped short of saying the agency would push back those deadlines during an April 10 climate change forum at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business sponsored by the New Republic.

“The interim goal, for me, is essential because the EPA doesn’t tend to set goals that are so far out,” McCarthy said.

However, McCarthy said she acknowledges states' concerns and agreed that the stringency of those targets may drive states to pursue new natural gas-fired power plants as the most convenient compliance measure, limiting investment in renewable generation or energy efficiency programs.

That's a concern McCarthy said the EPA will need to address in its final Clean Power Plan, expected this summer.

“There's lots of reasons to take this seriously, but that doesn’t mean you push it out,” McCarthy said.

Would Set Unique CO2 Emissions Rates 

The proposed Clean Power Plan (RIN 2060-AR33), issued under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, would establish unique carbon dioxide emissions rates for the power sector in each state.

The EPA rule would be implemented by states, which would determine how best to achieve the emissions targets using four “building blocks” to achieve reductions: heat rate improvements at power plants, shifting dispatch from coal to natural gas, investment in renewable or nuclear generation and energy efficiency programs.

States would be required to meet interim targets between 2020 and 2029, with a final emissions rate to be achieved in 2030.

McCarthy said the goal of the proposal is to build upon measures states are already taking to curb carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector.

“What we’ve set out in our Clean Power Plan is actually based on what’s already happening, what states are already doing,” she said.

Up-front Reductions Concern States 

States have repeatedly raised concerns with the interim emissions targets, which require many to achieve the majority of the Clean Power Plan's required emissions reductions within a few years of finalizing their compliance plans.

The EPA has seemed responsive to those concerns with both McCarthy and Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for air and radiation, publicly indicating that the agency would address that issue in the final rule.

“We’ve been getting pretty strong signals that’s the lowest hanging fruit on concessions,” Clint Woods, executive director of the Association of Air Pollution Control Agencies, told Bloomberg BNA April 10.

Many states in their public comments on the proposed rule suggested the interim targets be eliminated entirely or that states be allowed to determine the best glidepath toward achieving that 2030 emissions rate with periodic demonstrations to the EPA that they are on track to achieve that goal.

“There are a few states telling us we’re too aggressive, it’s too sharp, too steep a cliff,” McCarthy said.

Could Phase in Required Reductions 

Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, suggested the EPA could potentially phase in the required emissions reductions over the 10-year compliance period rather than mandating that most of the carbon dioxide emissions reductions be achieved up front.

“There would be little opposition to EPA changing the 2020 start date for the interim reductions to a more manageable time frame,” Becker told Bloomberg BNA April 10.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Childers in Washington at achilders@bna.com

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