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  • Mark Szybist, Natural Resources Defense Council

Why Pennsylvania Should Feel Good about the Clean Power Plan

Most Mondays feel like Mondays.

Last Monday, the thirty-first Monday of the warmest year on record, felt like history. So it was.

As a record heat wave claimed lives in Japan and the U.S. Forest Service reported that it now spends over half of its discretionary budget fighting wildfires linked to climate change, the EPA released its final Clean Power Plan - an unprecedented set of standards and incentives to limit carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. They're the nation's largest source of climate-changing carbon pollution. The EPA projects that when fully implemented in 2030, these changes will reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 32 percent over 2005 levels.

Ambitious, Achievable - and Good for Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Wolf called the Clean Power Plan's carbon-reduction goals "ambitious but achievable," and affirmed his administration's commitment to "making the Clean Power Plan work for Pennsylvania." This is a commitment that Pennsylvanians can take heart in. (And, through a public comment process starting in September, take part in).

The Clean Power Plan is ambitious because it aims to transform the U.S. electric power sector by increasing energy efficiency in our homes and businesses (thus reducing the need for generation); expanding solar, wind, and other renewables to 28 percent of generation capacity; retiring dirty coal plants; and making smarter use of existing gas plants while minimizing the construction of new gas plants.

The Clean Power Plan is achievable because, thanks to Pennsylvania's limited but successful alternative energy and energy efficiency programs, as well as its abundant untapped renewable and efficiency resources and planned, economics-driven coal plant retirements, the Commonwealth is well-positioned to meet its carbon-reduction goals.

And the Clean Power Plan can work for Pennsylvania by cutting soot and smog, lowering consumers' electricity bills, creating jobs - and of course, by fighting climate change to benefit of current and future generations of Pennsylvanians.

Why Pennsylvanians Should Feel Good about the Clean Power Plan

Next week, NRDC will release a detailed analysis of Pennsylvania's Clean Power goals, along with recommendations on how Pennsylvania can meet them. (For a general explanation of how the EPA calculated state goals, see this new NRDC fact sheet and a companion blog by my colleague Derek Murrow). Meanwhile, based on what we've read so far, it's already clear that Pennsylvanians have many reasons to feel good about the final Clean Power Plan. Here are three reasons.

The Clean Power Plan will give Pennsylvanians what they want: clean energy that improves air quality, lowers electricity bills, and modernizes the electricity grid.

Polls from late last year and earlier this month show that Pennsylvanians overwhelmingly support clean energy, and in particular a strong state plan to implement the Clean Power Plan. Some of these citizens are featured in this recent video. Their support is hardly surprising.

Today, Pennsylvania's coal- and gas-fired power plants emit more carbon dioxide than the fossil plants of any other state, except Texas. In fact, they emit 5.1 percent of all power plant carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S., along with huge amounts of dangerous "co-pollutants" - sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury, etc., that are linked to heart attacks, asthma attacks, birth defects and cancer. The Clean Power Plan will cut co-pollutant emissions by more than 20 percent in 2030, the EPA projects, reducing smog and soot levels and bringing national public health benefits of up to $54 billion in 2030. Based on a recent study by the Harvard School of Public Health, the Commonwealth will see as many of these benefits as any state.

Pennsylvanians are also increasingly aware of the economic benefits of clean energy. In June, the consumer advocate group Public Citizen projected that with the strong deployment of energy efficiency, the Clean Power Plan would reduce electric bills in the Commonwealth by more than 9 percent in 2030. That's consistent with the EPA's projection in the final plan that household electric bills will go down $7 per month (or $85 per year). As to jobs, Pennsylvania already employs more than 57,000 workers in clean energy businesses; support for clean energy is growing in the general business community; and a new partnership between the U.S. Department of Energy and labor unions will work with Pennsylvania and other states "on designing plans that maximize job creation." Finally, as my colleague John Moore has explained, the Clean Power Plan includes strong measures to protect the reliability of Pennsylvania's electricity grid.

Pennsylvania is well-positioned to submit a timely state plan and meet its carbon reduction target - and energy efficiency can provide a big boost.

As initially proposed, the Clean Power Plan had fairly tight timelines: final state implementation plans had to be submitted to the EPA by 2016, and power plants had to comply starting in 2020. Now, while Pennsylvania needs to submit an initial state plan by September 6, 2016, it can request two more years to submit a final plan - and emission compliance at power plants won't start until 2022. So the Department of Environmental Protection will have ample time to "hear from people what should go into" the state plan, and power plants more than enough time to comply with it.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania can get a huge head-start on its carbon reduction targets through policies promoting energy efficiency, such as Governor Wolf included (along with other clean energy funding) in his proposed 2015-16 budget. In the final Clean Power Plan, the EPA removed energy efficiency as a "building block" for goal-setting purposes. Critically, though, efficiency can still count as a compliance measure. Since efficiency is the fastest and cheapest way to reduce power plant pollution, this gives states that deploy efficiency a huge leg up on compliance.

My colleague Samantha Williams recently called efficiency a "not-so-secret weapon" for states in final plan compliance. I thought of a basketball metaphor, where the dunking of a basketball stands in for meeting the carbon reduction goal. It's as if, in allowing efficiency for reductions but not having used it for goal-setting, the EPA looked at each state's height, its jumping ability, and the type of sneakers in its local stores - but didn't consider a large trampoline located near the basket on the state's court. Energy efficiency is that trampoline. It will make dunking easier for Pennsylvania, especially given the "extra credits" the EPA will give under its new Clean Energy Incentive Program. For more on how states can use energy efficiency, see the recent blog of my colleague Dylan Sullivan.

The Clean Power Plan Promotes Clean Energy - not More Natural Gas.

Pennsylvania is the nation's second-largest producer of natural gas, and since part of the goal of the Clean Power Plan is to increase electricity generation from underused gas plants (which burn much cleaner than coal plants), NRDC wondered whether the final Plan would do enough to incentive renewables - not gas - for new generation. As my colleague Susan Casey-Lefkowitz has explained, there is good news on this front. The EPA projects that natural gas use will be 1-4 percent lower in 2030 than it would bewithout the Clean Power Plan; construction of new gas plants will be between 39 and 68 percent lower. The EPA also projects that implementation of the plan will require just a 2 percent increase in gas pipeline capacity. So far from promoting more gas, the Clean Power Plan - through the Clean Energy Incentive Program and other measures - actually de-emphasizes it.

Next week, I'll blog about NRDC's analysis of Pennsylvania's carbon reduction goal, and how the Commonwealth can meet it. Meanwhile, keep an eye on the DEP's public participation portal. It will soon have details on how you can have a say in what Pennsylvania's state plan should look like.

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