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  • Rob Altenberg, PennFuture

The final Clean Power Plan is here

On Monday, August 3, 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the final Clean Power Plan, the rule that will help limit carbon pollution from fossil fuel power plants. What does it mean for Pennsylvania? In Pennsylvania, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will be the lead agency developing the state plan and they have many options on how to proceed. The EPA's role here is not to tell states what to do, rather, set targets for states to meet and act as a referee to determine if the state plans meet those targets. Instead of setting a one-size-fits-all target, the EPA has tailored targets for each state depending on their current generation sources. The EPA also provides additional flexibility by allowing states to choose from four different targets. In Pennsylvania, those targets are:

  • Each affected facility meets a rate-based standard

  • 1,305 lbs/MWh for coal, gas (steam turbine), or other fossil fuel

  • 771 lbs/MWh for natural gas combined cycle (NGCC)

  • All affected sources in a state average 1,095 lbs/MWH

  • All affected sources in total emit <= 89,822,308 tons per year by 2030

  • All affected sources and new sources in total emit less than 90,665,764 tons per year by 2030

All of these targets should achieve similar reductions in carbon pollution but there may be reasons why a state prefers one over the other.

For example, DEP knows that a multi-state compliance approach using trading will be more cost effective than having each state go it alone in developing their plans. While no decision has been announced to join a particular multi-state group, it is not surprising that DEP wants to keep this option open by developing a "trade-ready" plan. This suggests that they will select one of the mass-based options (#3 or #4) as a target.

DEP is also going to look carefully at the details of the plan and to see if there is anything that has already happened, or any existing programs, that could provide creditable measures. In this case, there are a number of options.

  • Before this rule was proposed, a number of coal-fired power plants retired (or announced their retirement) and will be replaced primarily by natural gas generation.

  • Increases in the generation capacity of our nuclear power plants can provide credit.

  • Pennsylvania's Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS) will encourage a certain amount of creditable reductions.

  • Pennsylvania's Act 129 Energy Efficiency Program will likely generate creditable reductions in its next phase

Early indications are that these measures can get us about halfway to our goal.

What about legal challenges?

All major EPA rules face legal challenges and the Clean Power Plan will be no exception. The EPA has experience in this area and has established a track record in writing rules that survive legal review. In the case of the Clean Power Plan, there was an unprecedented amount of public participation with over 4.3 million comments submitted in response to the original proposal. In response to those comments, the EPA made changes to its method of calculating targets, it clarified key areas of the rule, and it gave states more time to develop their plans. All of this will make it likelier that the rule will survive.

Even still, there are individuals who advocate that states "just say no" and refuse to adopt their own plans. States have every legal right to do this but, needless to say, burying your head in the sand is never a good plan. For states that can't or won't adopt their own plan, the EPA has now proposed a federal plan that will automatically apply to their fossil fuel power plants. Thankfully, Pennsylvania is committed to addressing carbon pollution in a more positive and constructive way.

What are the next steps?

Pennsylvania can, and should, be a leader. With the final rule in place, the ball is now in DEP's court to decide how to proceed. It is encouraging that Gov. Tom Wolf has said his administration, "Is committed to making the Clean Power Plan work for Pennsylvania." But we know the polluters and their allies will be out in force, contacting DEP and their legislators, and doing everything they can to weaken Pennsylvania's plan and delay the process. Those of us who understand what's at stake and are supportive of a strong plan for Pennsylvania need to ensure they don't prevail.

Rob Altenburg is director of the PennFuture Energy Center and is based in Harrisburg. He tweets @RobAltenburg.

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