EPA proposes first guidelines to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants- Maine already has RGGI

RGGI has been a model for the new EPA ruling

By Ramona du Houx - June 2nd, 2014 

SAPPI paper mill in Skhowegan, Maine, emits pollutants. Photo by Ramona du Houx

At the direction of President Obama and after an unprecedented outreach effort, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is today releasing 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. Today’s 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.

“Climate change, fueled by carbon pollution, supercharges risks to our health, our economy, and our way of life. EPA is delivering on a vital piece of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan by proposing a Clean Power Plan that will cut harmful carbon pollution from our largest source–power plants,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “By leveraging cleaner energy sources and cutting energy waste, this plan will clean the air we breathe while helping slow climate change so we can leave a safe and healthy future for our kids. We don’t have to choose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment–our action will sharpen America’s competitive edge, spur innovation, and create jobs.”

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 are currently no national limits on carbon pollution levels.

While Maine is part of the New England state’s cap-and-trade carbon tax system, know as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, RGGI, the state is still at the mercy of winds that carry pollution here. RGGI has been very successful bringing over $51,000 million to Maine to help energy efficiency for businesses and citizens.

“The EPA’s plan will allow states like Maine to build on the strong work we’ve already been doing to reduce carbon dioxide emissions,” said Michaud. “Over the last 9 years, emissions from power plants in the nine states participating in the northeast Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative have dropped by more than 40 percent. That is a very important step forward, and this proposal – when taken with Maine’s cutting-edge clean energy initiatives – positions Maine to be a leader in the clean energy sector. That means more jobs, lower utility bills and cleaner air for all Mainers.”

Michaud is a long-time supporter of RGGI. States participating in RGGI include Maine, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.

“Reducing our carbon footprint isn’t just beneficial to Maine’s overall population health, it’s an important step toward reducing our overall costs and strengthening our clean energy initiatives,” added Michaud. “I’m proud of the work underway in Maine to ensure our state can be a leader in producing clean energy. Tackling carbon pollution and focusing on the development of clean energy is how we secure our future. It’s the responsible thing to do, and it’s what will protect Maine’s precious resources for generations to come.”

This graph shows how well RGGI is working. The North Eastern states, including Maine, rank low on state by state carbon intensity.

The RGGI program, in conjunction with market responses and other state clean energy polices, has helped the RGGI states reduce carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 40 percent since 2005. In addition, proceeds from the sale of RGGI CO2 allowances have enabled the RGGI states to invest over $700 million in RGGI proceeds in energy efficiency, clean and renewable energy, and other strategic energy programs. To date 3 million households and more than 12,000 businesses are participating in RGGI funded programs.

The RGGI states will continue to review the proposed rule, and applaud EPA’s recognition of regional market-based programs.

With the Clean Power Plan, EPA is proposing guidelines that build on trends already underway in 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 the common-sense steps laid out in President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and the June 2013 Presidential Memorandum.

By 2030, the steady and responsible steps EPA is taking 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.

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 the right 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.

Also included in today’s proposal is a flexible timeline for states to follow for submitting plans to the agency—with plans due in June 2016, with 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.

“The EPA is giving states flexibility in figuring out how to reduce carbon pollution, but clearly one way to do it is to move away from old coal-fired power plants and invest in clean energy like wind and tidal power. Maine has already started to develop those businesses and this new rule could give a boost to that industry,” said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree.

Since last summer, EPA has directly engaged with state, tribal, and local governments, industry and labor leaders, non-profits, and others. The data, information and feedback provided during this effort helped guide the development of the proposal and further confirmed that states have been leading the way for years in saving families and businesses money through improving efficiency, while cleaning up pollution from power plants. To date, 47 states have utilities that run demand-side energy efficiency programs, 38 have renewable portfolio standards or goals, and 10 have market-based greenhouse gas emissions programs. Together, the agency believes that these programs represent a proven, common-sense approach to cutting carbon pollution—one in which electricity is generated and used as efficiently as possible and which promotes a greater reliance on lower-carbon power sources.

Today’s announcement marks the beginning of the second phase of the agency’s outreach efforts. EPA will accept comment on the proposal for 120 days after publication in the Federal Register and will hold four public hearings on the proposed Clean Power Plan during the week of July 28 in the following cities: Denver, Atlanta, Washington, DC and Pittsburgh. Based on this input, EPA will finalize standards next June following the schedule laid out in the June 2013 Presidential Memorandum.

In 2009, EPA determined that greenhouse gas pollution threatens Americans’ health and welfare by leading to long lasting changes in our climate that can have a range of negative effects on human health and the environment. Taking steady, responsible steps to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants will protect children’s health and will move our nation toward a cleaner, more stable environment for future generations, while supplying the reliable, affordable power needed for economic growth.

In 2012, power plants that burn fossil fuels in Maine generated an estimated 437 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour. The EPA is recommending that Maine lower that rate to 378 pounds/megawatt hour by the year 2030.