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  • Mark Szybist, Natural Resources Defense Council

Pennsylvania's Pathway to Cutting Carbon Pollution

Got 10 minutes? That's all you need to see how Pennsylvania - yes, one of our biggest coal states - can hit its target for power plant carbon pollution under the Environmental Protection Agency's newly finalized Clean Power Plan. In just 10 minutes looking over our new issue brief, Pennsylvania's Pathway to Cutting Carbon Pollution, you can see how the Commonwealth can meet its carbon emission reduction goals while also improving public health, creating clean energy jobs, and reducing electricity bills.

It's a pathway that's achievable not just in Pennsylvania but in all the states: advancing clean, renewable energy and increasing energy efficiency. The big news is that by following this path, the U.S. can cut 32 percent of its power plant carbon pollution by 2030 relative to 2005 levels.

Background: on August 3, the EPA isued its final Clean Power Plan. Last week, NRDC issued a concise analysis of the Plan in an issue brief called "Understanding the Clean Power Plan," and I blogged about why, based on that analysis, Pennsylvanians should be happy about the Plan.

Now, using a publicly available compliance tool developed by MJ Bradley & Associates, NRDC has analyzed where Pennsylvania stands now, relative to its mass-based carbon reduction goal for existing and new power plants (90.9 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2030, down from the 116.7 million tons emitted in 2012), and how the Commonwealth's electric sector needs to change for it to reach that goal. The analysis takes into account: (1) the existing mix of energy generation in the Commonwealth (coal, gas, nuclear, hydroelectric, wind, solar, and other), (2) changes to that mix that are already being planned or considered (i.e., the retirements of older coal plants and the construction of new natural gas combined cycle, or NGCC, plants), (3) anticipated growth in electricity demand, and (4) Pennsylvania's current Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard and demand-side energy efficiency laws.

NRDC's findings? Because of post-2012 coal plant retirements, increasing amounts of generation from renewable resources, and decreasing energy waste thanks to Act 129, the Commonwealth's successful and money-saving energy efficiency law, Pennsylvania's electric sector is already getting cleaner. But because the goals of Act 129 and the state's Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS) are modest - and fall far short of Pennsylvania's vast potential to increase efficiency and generate electricity from solar and wind resources - the Commonwealth needs to do more to realize that potential. Then it can meet its CPP goal while also reducing the need to build new fossil plants, enhancing public health, and creating jobs.

Overall, NRDC concludes that if Pennsylvania takes a flexible, market-based approach for implementing the Clean Power Plan (e.g., a policy that allows for regional trading of mass-based carbon allowances and covers both existing and new power plants) and adopts complementary state energy policies to expand renewable energy and energy efficiency, the Commonwealth can cost-effectively meet its carbon pollution limits and secure great public health, environmental, and economic benefits for its citizens.

The new brief makes some particular recommendations for how Pennsylvania could do this - e.g., establishing new targets under Act 129 and taking steps to ensure that more of the alternative energy generated under the AEPS is actually low-carbon renewableenergy.

But these are just examples. As Pennsylvania's Pathway to Cutting Carbon Pollutionnotes, the Clean Power Plan gives states an enormous amount of flexibility to meet their carbon emissions limits. The important thing to recognize at the outset is that Pennsylvania's limits are achievable - and that the path that the Commonwealth chooses will determine how much its citizens benefit.

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