A Look Ahead: New Year to Ring in New Rules for Power Plants


Climate change will be high on the Environmental Protection Agency's agenda in 2014, while adaptation efforts will take on more urgency, emissions trading will cross North American borders and countries will continue to work toward a global climate agreement.

President's Climate Action Plan

Implementing President Barack Obama's climate action plan, announced June 25, will be a top priority for the EPA. As detailed in a Nov. 19 Energy and Climate Reportarticle, EPA said one of its first strategic goals for fiscal years 2014-2018 is reducing greenhouse gas emissions and focusing on adaptation strategies for dealing with the impacts of climate change.

Obama's plan laid out timelines for EPA to regulate carbon emissions from existing power plants under Clean Air Act new source performance standards. Under Obama's plan, the NSPS must be proposed by June 2014 and finalized in 2015. States would then have to submit plans to implement and enforce the NSPS by June 30, 2016. As detailed in a Dec. 13 article, the proposed NSPS are not expected to be as stringent as those for future power plants. A proposed NSPS for new power plants was announced Sept. 20, but has not yet been published in the Federal Register.

A task force of state, local and tribal leaders has been convened by the White House to lay out priorities for how the federal government can help them deal with extreme weather, sea level rise and other impacts of climate change. As covered in a Dec. 11 article, the task force will split into subgroups focusing on four topics: disaster recover and resilience, built systems and infrastructure, natural and cultural resources, and community health and development. The task force is expected to meet three times in 2014 before issuing recommendations by November 2014.

Other EPA priorities include finalizing a renewable fuel standard by February 2014. As detailed in a Nov. 19 article, the standard, proposed Nov. 15, would require petroleum refiners to blend 15.21 billion gallons of renewable fuels into their products in 2014. That is down from the 18.15 billion gallons required by the Energy Independence and Security Act.

If made final, it would be the first time the agency has used its Clean Air Act authority to reduce overall blending requirements as it takes steps to address the ethanol blend wall. The blend wall is the point at which the amount of ethanol that must be blended into the gasoline supply exceeds 10 percent, the maximum that has been approved for all vehicles and small engines.

Keystone XL Oil Pipeline

Another pending issue for the Obama administration is the fate of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which may be decided in 2014. The $7 billion pipeline, proposed by TransCanada Corp. to carry oil sands in Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries, has been under review by the State Department for five years.

As covered in a March 14 article, a draft environmental review released by the department found the pipeline wouldn't affect climate change, in part because trains would pick up the slack if the pipeline wasn't built. At the time, the president gave no indication whether he would ultimately approve the pipeline, a top priority for Senate Republicans.

However, when Obama announced his climate action plan in June, he said, “Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation's interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline's impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.”

California, Quebec Emissions Trading Programs

On Jan. 1, 2014, the California and Quebec emissions trading program will be linked, which will enable carbon allowances and offset credits to be exchanged between participants in the two jurisdictions’ programs. As covered in an Oct. 1 article, it will mark the first agreement in North America to allow companies to trade greenhouse gas emissions allowances across borders.

The programs were designed along guidelines from the Western Climate Initiative, which was formed in 2007 to develop a market-based program for achieving a regional greenhouse gas emissions reduction target. The initiative initially included Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington. After several changes, it now includes British Columbia, California, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec.

Interior Department Agenda

The Interior Department's priorities for 2014 include the creation of a competitive bidding process for solar and wind energy projects and the issuance of a proposed rule to minimize natural gas venting and flaring at oil and gas production facilities on federal and Indian lands.

Other priorities, as detailed in a Nov. 27 article, include the establishment of a program to capture, use or destroy waste mine methane from federal coal leases and a proposal by the Fish and Wildlife Service to revise regulations for permits for accidental harm to eagles to make it easier to develop wind energy projects that are designed to be in operation for many decades.

International Focus

On the international level, at least four multilateral forums will be held by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to lay groundwork for a global agreement to be refined at the year-end climate summit in Peru and finalized in 2015 in Paris. If reached, the 2015 agreement would limit greenhouse gas emissions worldwide and replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

The deal is meant to come into force in 2020. As detailed in a Nov. 25 article, delegates agreed to meet March 10-14 in Bonn; sometime in June in Bonn; Sept. 23 in New York; and in December for the summit in Lima. An additional set of talks, most likely in October, could be added.

During the 2013 summit in Warsaw, negotiators reached an agreement on compensation for loss and damage caused by climate change in developing countries and agreed to a working deadline for countries to submit post-2020 greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets.

 Climate Change Reports Due

Two major climate change reports are due in 2014. The UNFCCC is scheduled to released its "Fifth Assessment Report" in October. As detailed in a Dec. 17 article, draft reports have been released this year on mitigation and the physical science basis of climate change. A third draft on vulnerabilities and consequences is expected to be released in March.

As detailed in a Sept. 27 article covering highlights of the yet-to-be-released report, the IPCC said it calculated that average surface temperatures have risen 0.85 degree Celsius (1.5 degrees Fahrenheit) since the start of the industrial revolution. The summary says it is “extremely likely”—defined by the IPCC at 95 percent to 100 percent certainty—that human activity is the principal cause of climate change.

The U.S. National Climate Assessment Advisory Committee also is scheduled to released an assessment of current and future climate change impacts on the United States in April. A national assessment is due to Congress every four years under the Global Change Research Act of 1990. However, only two reports have been completed since the law passed, one in 2000 and one in 2009. The 2014 report is expected to focus on adaptation and mitigation strategies.