McCarthy Says China Deal Won't Affect Stringency of Power Plant Carbon Rules

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By Andrew Childers

Nov. 17 — The recent U.S. climate agreement with China won't drive the stringency of the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed carbon dioxide standards for power plants, Administrator Gina McCarthy said Nov. 17.

“We are not going to let what our end goal is on climate intervene in a way that's inappropriate,” McCarthy said at a forum sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor and America's Natural Gas Alliance. “We're not shooting for outside targets. We're shooting for the target we're supposed to on the implementation of the rule.”

McCarthy said the EPA will approach its carbon dioxide rules for power plants as it would any other Clean Air Act regulations and would not allow the administration's climate targets to dictate the rules' requirements.

No single EPA rule will be able to achieve the greenhouse gas emissions reductions necessary to meet the target, she said.

“We’re implementing the individual rules and efforts under the Climate Action Plan, including the Clean Power Plan, in a way that’s consistent with the underlying rules, the way we would always do it, to try to achieve what’s aggressive, that’s intended under the statute, to meet our mission but to also do it in a way that’s as smart as we could,” McCarthy said.

As part of the agreement announced Nov. 12, the U.S. pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. China pledged to peak its carbon emissions by 2030, with an intention of peaking earlier, and increase the use of non-fossil fuels to 20 percent of the nation's energy mix by 2030.

Rule Proposed in June

The EPA in June proposed carbon dioxide emissions standards for existing power plants, known as the Clean Power Plan (RIN 2060-AR33). The rule would set state-specific carbon dioxide emissions rates for the power sector (79 Fed. Reg. 34,830).

Additionally, the EPA has proposed carbon dioxide standards for new power plants, those that have been modified and facilities on tribal lands and in territories.

Those rules demonstrated the U.S. commitment to addressing climate change, which helped to facilitate the deal with China, McCarthy said.

Analysts have suggested that the EPA's power plant rules alone won't be enough to reach the greenhouse gas reductions set out in the agreement and that other measures, such as regulating methane from oil and natural gas wells, also would be necessary.

Deal Drives Technology

China's pledge will require it to make significant investment in cleaner generation sources, which could help to drive innovation in new technologies such as carbon capture globally, McCarthy said.

To meet its commitment goals, China will need to invest in a significant amount of low- or no-carbon electricity generation sources, she said.

“We are talking about on the order of the entire generation capacity of the U.S.,” McCarthy said.

The U.S. and China maintain an ongoing working group to discuss air pollution controls, and the climate pledge offers an opportunity to expand on that cooperation. China already is purchasing air pollution monitors and controls from American countries, and its investment in clean generation also could drive American technology, McCarthy said.

“China has been relying on coal as part of their growth strategy,” she said. “It is clearly a signal that they need to make significant economic changes in the structure of how they look at their economy, and it will require significant investment in zero-carbon technologies and low-carbon technologies.”

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 in Washington at lpearl@bna.com