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EPA’s Proposed Clean Power Plan

February 24, 2015

My first day of work at the Environmental Protection Agency began with a lot of excitement. It just so happened that the interns for the Office of the Administrator started on the same day as the Administrator’s announcement of the proposed Clean Power Plan rule. Carbon is by far the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and so this plan to reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants by 30% in comparison with 2005 levels by 2030 is a landmark step in climate change regulation. It is the first time that EPA has proposed regulating carbon emissions from existing power plants, although they have already put limits on many other pollution sources from the power sector. The proposal is part of President Obama’s larger Climate Action Plan. 

By Kyra Reumann-Moore, SAS’17

We arrived at EPA at 9 AM and by 10 AM we sat in the overflow room and watched on the screens as Administrator Gina McCarthy announced the proposed plan. We were across the hall from the room where the Administrator actually spoke, which I thought turned out to be the better option, because there were plenty of seats while we waited and listened, unlike in the room next door that was packed with press and other stakeholders!

The graphic below includes a lot of great quantifiable results of the plan, but there are even more. Power plants account for one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than any other source. The plan will see health benefits solely as a result of the reduction of soot and smog that are worth seven times the amount of money invested, with total climate and health benefits being worth $55 to $93 billion in 2030. Due to rising efficiency, electricity bills should be about 8 percent less in 2030. Overall, the proposed Clean Power Plan will hopefully lessen our contributions as a nation to climate change, including not only air pollution, but also severe weather, flooding and droughts. EPA kept this plan realistic and we will continue to rely on coal, oil, and natural gas for our energy needs. By 2030, each of those sources will still each account for about 30 percent of energy generation.

One of the key ideas behind this plan is that each state has its own specific goal based on what programs they may already have in place, their electricity system, and how much opportunity they have for decreasing emissions. Each state can meet their goal however they would like. Some potential methods are increasing renewable energy production and usage, utilizing market-based greenhouse gas emissions programs (cap and trade), increasing energy efficiency and increasing the production of clean energy. States can meet their goals on their own or work together with other states to create broader carbon reduction plans. All of these methods have already been implemented in several states, and will hopefully be expanded upon and implemented in even more places as a result of this proposal.

I was also able to go sit in on the D.C. public hearing about the proposed Clean Power Plan. After the announcement of proposals like this one, EPA accepts public comments for a period of time, which in this case is 120 days. People can share their thoughts, opinions, and relevant facts with the Agency through written comments or in person. In this instance, EPA held four public hearings for two days each in Pittsburgh, PA, Washington, D.C., Denver, Colorado, and Atlanta, Georgia at the end of July. The D.C. hearing had a panel of three listeners who took notes, called out the names of the people who were next to speak and thanked them after they read their statements, and ran a little machine that notified speakers when their 5-minute time period was almost up and when it had ended. There was also a court reporter who documented the proceedings.

Most of the people that I heard speak within the hour that I sat in on the hearing were in favor of the proposal. One asked for less carbon reduction due to concern about economic interests and another expressed a wish for less of a burden for change to be put on his state of New Hampshire due to the significant amount of progress that the state had already made. However, several speakers urged for the Clean Power Plan to be made even stronger due to the rapidness and gravity of the issue of climate change. Everyone at least recognized that something needed to be done about climate change and power plant pollution, which was refreshing, although I wonder if I missed some stronger opponents who may have spoken at other points during the hearing. The speakers ranged from a 10-year-old girl to a woman reading the statement of Olympic skier Ida Sargent, who could not be there in person, to a Sierra Club employee to Democratic Senator Joe Manchin from West Virginia. They came from all over D.C. and its suburbs, but also from New Hampshire, Oregon, and California. People talked about topics such as their personal experiences with asthma, their concern about how various aspects of climate change are impacting our world, and what their states have done so far to combat climate change, since there is such a large variation across the United States in the amount of action that has been taken.

In order to develop the proposed Clean Power Plan, EPA listened to what states, cities, industry, and other stakeholders are currently doing to address climate change and gathered a lot of public opinions and ideas, and now they are collecting even more through the comment period. EPA’s plan is to finalize the proposal within a year’s time, and then give states a year to come up with their plan for reaching their carbon reduction goal, although they may be eligible for a one- to two-year extension based on their circumstances. I look forward to seeing the proposed Clean Power Plan develop and be put into action, and I hope that it becomes even better by 2015 with the feedback of the public. If you are interested in commenting on the plan, you have until October 16th to do so. For proposals like this one, the more voices in favor of the plan or suggesting improvements, the better.

References

“FACT SHEET: Clean Power Plan Benefits.” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Aug. 2014. <http://www2.epa.gov/carbon-pollution-standards/fact-sheet-clean-power-plan-benefits>.

“FACT SHEET: Clean Power Plan Flexibility.” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Aug. 2014. <http://www2.epa.gov/carbon-pollution-standards/fact-sheet-clean-power-plan-flexibility>.

“FACT SHEET: Clean Power Plan Overview.” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Aug. 2014. <http://www2.epa.gov/carbon-pollution-standards/fact-sheet-clean-power-plan-overview>.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “Clean Power Plan Explained.” YouTube. 2 June 2014. Web. 1 Aug. 2014. <www.youtube.com/watch?v=AcNTGX_d8mY>.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. EPA Press Office. EPA Proposes First Guidelines to Cut Carbon Pollution from Existing Power Plants/Clean Power Plan Is Flexible Proposal to Ensure a Healthier Environment, Spur Innovation and Strengthen the EconomyU.S. Environmental Protection Agency. N.p., 2 June 2014. Web. 1 Aug. 2014. <http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/bd4379a92ceceeac8525735900400c27/5bb6d20668b9a18485257ceb00490c98!OpenDocument>.

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