States Question Performance Baseline In Upcoming EPA Rules for Existing Plants

By Andrea Vittorio  

Oct. 1 --One of the most complicated policy questions for federal regulation of carbon dioxide from existing power plants will be how to set state-by-state performance baselines, panelists at a carbon forum said.

Representatives from state agencies and utilities agreed on the importance of state flexibility in implementing the Environmental Protection Agency's planned regulations, but they said it is unclear whether states will be given credit for any emissions reductions achieved before the standards go into effect.

“This is the policy question to keep your eyes on,” Collin O'Mara, Delaware's secretary of the environment and energy, said Oct. 1 during the Carbon Forum North America 2013, held by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions and the International Emissions Trading Association.

O'Mara said some states, including those in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), have made significant emissions progress. RGGI's efforts in nine states from 2009 to 2011 were estimated to save 12 million short tons of carbon dioxide pollution.

But “there are other states that haven't taken many steps yet” and may need a staggered compliance timeline to get to the same level of reductions, he said.

The EPA will propose carbon dioxide limits for existing power plants by June 2014 as part of President Obama's climate action plan .

State Success Stories

States will implement the limits, so the EPA is seeking feedback from them on their own greenhouse gas reduction programs for power plants and what sort of federal support would be helpful.

EPA is likely to be particularly interested in hearing success stories for state emissions programs, Brian Turner, deputy executive director for policy and external relations at the California Public Utilities Commission, said during the event.

“There are a lot of best systems of emission reductions that have been very adequately demonstrated,” Turner said. California, for example, has established a cap-and-trade program with the goal of cutting the state's greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

States that are leading the way in emissions reductions could have a “ratcheting effect” that promotes more stringent federal limits over time, he said.

Frank Prager, vice president of environmental policy and services at Xcel Energy, a public utility that operates in eight states, said he also has heard concerns from states that are “wondering whether we'll get credit for anything else we do,” including investments in renewable energy or energy efficiency that contribute to emissions reductions.

Xcel Energy is on track to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions 35 percent by 2020 through state clean energy programs, Prager said.