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States Likely to Need Extensions to Complete Power Plant Emission Plans, McCabe Says

Friday, July 18, 2014

By Anthony Adragna  

July 17 — Most states are likely to need additional time to submit their implementation plans for meeting carbon dioxide reduction targets for existing power plants, beyond the one-year time frame outlined in President Barack Obama's climate action plan, the Environmental Protection Agency's top air official said July 17.

Janet McCabe, acting head of the agency's air office, told a breakfast hosted by ICF International that the EPA recognized that many states would have to issue additional regulations or enact legislation that might require more than a year to complete.

The agency, in its proposed rule, recognized “some states may need more than one year to complete all of the actions needed for their final state plans” so proposed an optional two-phased submittal process (79 Fed. Reg. 34,959).

Under Obama's climate action plan—detailed in a June 2013 presidential memorandum to the EPA—final rules were to be completed by June 2015, and state implementation plans would be submitted to the EPA for approval by June 30, 2016. The agency released its proposed rules (RIN 2060-AR33) June 2 under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act.

Those regulations would establish unique carbon dioxide emissions rates for the power industry in each state. Carbon dioxide emissions from the existing fleet of power plants could be reduced 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 nationally at a cost of $5.4 billion to $8.8 billion in 2030.

Outreach Continuing

While the agency typically limits its outreach to interested parties during the public notice and comment period, McCabe said the EPA will maintain strong outreach with utilities, environmental and public health groups, states and others as it solicits comments on the power plant proposals.

McCabe said the EPA has held “dozens” of meetings with groups since it released the proposal in June and conducted multiple calls with states to discuss the proposed rules.

“We're already hearing about the things people are wondering about or disagree with,” McCabe said. “I haven't worked on a single EPA rule—either while at EPA or before in my state career—that didn't change and improve between proposed and final as a result of robust public comment.”

The EPA is accepting public comments on its new source performance standards for existing power plants through Oct. 16.

McCabe outlined four areas of concern groups have expressed in discussions held to date:

  •  why the agency decided to use 2012 as the “starting point” for the emissions reductions. Many states say the use of that year—McCabe said it was the most recent year with reliable data—failed to taken into account previous efforts at carbon emissions reductions many states had undertaken;
  •  how the agency treated the nuclear power fleet in the proposed regulations;
  •  how states can join together with others to work on emissions reductions goals; and
  •  how states can build energy efficiency and renewable measures into their implementation plans for reducing carbon pollution.
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    McCabe said she is confident the agency could adequately address those concerns throughout the rulemaking process and encouraged interested parties to reach out to the agency with their opinions.

    Asked whether the EPA would release a methodology or model rule that states could use in developing their plans, McCabe said the agency had no plans to do so yet.

    “I wouldn't presume to say that EPA is in the best position to know what the best answer is,” McCabe said. “We want to encourage these kinds of conversations to continue.”

    McCabe said during the rule's development Administrator Gina McCarthy told staff members, “If I got 50 different plans, that would be okay.”

    Reduction Vision Outlined

    In developing the proposed regulations, the agency envisioned states achieving the emissions reductions through four main strategies, according to McCabe.

    Those strategies were ensuring power plants are operated as efficiently as possible; expanding the use of low-emitting fuel sources such as wind, solar and nuclear power; utilizing fuel sources with lower carbon emissions—like natural gas—with greater frequency; and promoting greater energy efficiency.

    McCabe stressed that states could hit their emissions reduction goals through other strategies. One option would be retiring additional coal plants, but McCabe said that was not an “expectation” of the proposed regulations.

    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

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