President Barack Obama with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy center talks with EPA staff members who worked on the powerplant emissions standards in the Rose Garden of the White House June 2 Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama, with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, center, talks with EPA staff members who worked on the power-plant emissions standards, in the Rose Garden of the White House, June 2.

McCarthy: New EPA Guidelines to Cut Carbon Pollution Is ‘War on Coal’

The Environmental Protection Agency claims the proposal to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants is a flexible proposal to ensure a healthier environment, spur innovation and strengthen the economy.

At the direction of President Barack Obama and after a considerable outreach effort, EPA on June 2 released the Clean Power Plan proposal, which for the first time cuts carbon pollution from existing power plants, the single largest source of carbon pollution in the United States.

According to EPA, the proposal “will protect public health, move the United States toward a cleaner environment and fight climate change while supplying Americans with reliable and affordable power.”

A slighter sharper tone was offered by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy when she appeared on “Real Time with Bill Maher” on HBO on June 11.

In a discussion of the proposed plan, host Maher noted, “Some people call it ‘a war on coal.’ I hope it is a war on coal. Is it?”

To which McCarthy responded, “Actually, EPA is all about fighting against pollution and fighting for public health. That’s exactly what this is. Exactly.”

According to EPA, power plants account for roughly one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. While there are limits in place for the level of arsenic, mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particle pollution that power plants can emit, there currently are no national limits on carbon pollution levels.

The Clean Power Plan

With the Clean Power Plan, EPA is proposing guidelines that build on trends already underway in California and many northeast states and the power sector to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants, making them more efficient and less polluting. This proposal follows through on steps laid out in President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and the June 2013 Presidential Memorandum.

The Clean Power Plan will be implemented through a state-federal partnership under which states identify a path forward using either current or new electricity production and pollution control policies to meet the goals of the proposed program. The proposal provides guidelines for states to develop plans to meet state-specific goals to reduce carbon pollution and gives them the flexibility to design a program that makes the most sense for their unique situation.

States can choose a mix of generation using diverse fuels, energy efficiency and demand-side management to meet the goals and their own needs. It allows them to work alone to develop individual plans or to work together with other states to develop multi-state plans.

House Republicans Respond to Plan

House Republicans, many of whom take issue with the concept of global warming and climate change to begin with, were quick to respond and didn't mince words.

“The president’s plan is nuts, there’s really no more succinct way to describe it,” said House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). “Americans are still asking ‘where are the jobs?’ and here he is proposing rules to ship jobs overseas for years to come.  Americans are already paying more for everything and here he is condemning them to higher bills and lower incomes long after he leaves office.”   

Boehner said the house already has passed legislation to prevent these rules from taking effect without the approval of Congress. (On March 6, the House passed H.R. 3826, the Electricity Security and Affordability Act, which prevents these rules from taking effect unless the House and Senate approve them by law.  Senate Democrats have thus far blocked the measure from coming to the Senate floor for a vote.) 

“The question now is: Will Senate Democrats listen to the American people and stop this disaster or will they back the president all the way?” Boehner asked.

When Maher pointed out the opposition to the plan to McCarthy, she commented, “Every time we [EPA] do something important, we hear about crying wolf: Industry is going to stop. The economy is going to fall apart. But it’s never happened.

“We’ve been able to reduce air pollution by 70 percent while we grow the GDP by three times over. We can do this. We have to do this,” she insisted.

Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

McCarthy mentioned the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) as an example of how certain states are leading the charge to reduce carbon emissions.

The RGGI is the first market-based regulatory program in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. RGGI is a cooperative effort among Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont to cap and reduce CO2 emissions from the power sector.

Following a comprehensive 2012 Program Review, the RGGI states implemented a new 2014 RGGI cap of 91 million short tons. The RGGI CO2 cap then declines 2.5 percent each year from 2015 to 2020. The RGGI CO2 cap represents a regional budget for CO2 emissions from the power sector.

States sell nearly all emission allowances through auctions and invest proceeds in energy efficiency, renewable energy and other consumer benefit programs. According to the states and McCarthy, these programs are “creating economic opportunity” by  spurring innovation in the clean energy economy and creating green jobs in the RGGI states. “It’s good for their economies,” she said.

If allowed to move forward, EPA claims that by 2030, the Clean Power Plan will:

  • Cut carbon emission from the power sector by 30 percent nationwide below 2005 levels, which is equal to the emissions from powering more than half the homes in the United States for one year;
  • Cut particle pollution, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide by more than 25 percent as a co-benefit;
  • Avoid up to 6,600 premature deaths, up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children, and up to 490,000 missed work or school days – providing up to $93 billion in climate and public health benefits; and
  • Shrink electricity bills roughly 8 percent by increasing energy efficiency and reducing demand in the electricity system.

Plans are due in June 2016, with states having the option to use a two-step process for submitting final plans if more time is needed. States that have already invested in energy efficiency programs will be able to build on these programs during the compliance period to help make progress toward meeting their goal.

In a news release applauding the proposal, the RGGI states said they will continue to review the proposed rule, and “applaud EPA’s recognition of regional market-based programs.”

The group noted there are several reasons why RGGI is an effective system of emission reduction for carbon emissions from the power sector, among them:

  • It is a proven model. RGGI’s regional market-based model has helped the New England and Mid-Atlantic states make dramatic reductions in GHG emissions.
  • It is extremely cost-effective. RGGI enables compliance through market mechanisms that seek out the least expensive emission reductions across the region.
  • It provides economic benefits. According to an independent analysis, the RGGI states’ investment of auction proceeds from just the first three years of the program (2009-11) is creating thousands of jobs, reducing energy bills by more than $1 billion and adding a net of $1.6 billion to the economies in the RGGI states.
  • It aligns with the regional nature of the electricity grid and fosters regional cooperation. The nation’s regional electricity grids allow electricity to flow from the cheapest, most efficient producer to meet consumer demand, wherever located. The RGGI cap ensures that emissions decrease across the region, even as it allows increases in some locations in order to reap the benefits of more efficient sources in those locations.
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