Addressing climate change and improving air quality will be among the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) foremost objectives over the next four years, a draft strategic plan recently released by the federal agency shows.

The 86-page Draft FY 2014-2018 EPA Strategic Plan was released for public review and comment on Nov. 19 as part of a periodic update, and a final version is expected to be submitted to Congress in February 2014. It essentially outlines the agency’s long-term direction and strategies and serves as a management tool that will be used routinely by the EPA’s senior leadership.

The EPA’s outlined “strategic goals” include “addressing climate change and improving air quality,” as well as “protecting America’s waters” and “ensuring the safety of chemicals and preventing pollution.” It also says it will focus on developing and using “creative, flexible, cost-effective, and sustainable actions,” to achieve these goals.

The draft states that the EPA’s strategies to address climate change reflect President Obama’s call to action in his June 2013–issued Climate Action Plan and will back the president’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 17% below 2005 levels by 2020.

The agency this September issued, under section 111(b) of the Clean Air Act, a new proposal for GHG standards performance standards for new power plants and expects to finalize that rule “after consideration of public comment as appropriate.” The draft shows that the EPA expects to issue proposed GHG standards, rules, or guidelines for “modified, reconstructed, and existing power plants” by June 1, 2014 and finalize them by June 2015. It also describes permitting requirements for power plants “to encourage design and construction of more sustainable, efficient, and advanced processes that will contribute to a clean energy economy.”

Notably, the EPA also admits that “many of the outcomes” it strives to attain are sensitive to weather and climate. The draft requires the agency to take these fluctuations into consideration. “For example, potential increases in ground-level ozone due to a changing climate could make attainment or maintenance of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) more challenging,” it says.

Actions to improve air quality outlined in the draft, meanwhile, include implementing “cost-effective multi-state regional programs designed to control the significant contributions of power plant and other stationary source emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) to air quality problems (i.e., nonattainment and interference with maintenance of ozone and PM2.5 NAAQS) in downwind areas).

The agency notes that it completed NAAQS for particulate matter in December 2012, lead in October 2008, SO2 in June 2010, NOx in January 2010, and carbon monoxide in August 2011. It is also currently reviewing the standard for ozone. Operating programs in 2014 could include the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) or a replacement program to control transported ozone and PM2.5 pollution in addition to national acid rain SO2 and NOx emission reduction programs. Over the next four years, the agency will also continue to “set and enforce control technology-based air toxics emissions standards and, where needed, amend those standards to address residual risk and technology advancements,” the draft says.

By 2018, the EPA plans to decrease average concentrations of ozone in all monitored counties to 0.072 ppm compared to the average of 0.076 ppm in 2011, and to cut inhalable fine particles to 9.5 μg/m³ compared to the average 10.4 μg/m³ in 2011. Through 2018, it will also seek to maintain emissions of SO2 from power generation sources to 5 million tons per year compared to the 2009 level of 5.7 million tons emitted (in 2011, those sources emitted 4.5 million tons).

However, the EPA specifies that future air quality program implementation will depend on how the U.S. Supreme Court rules on an appeal of an August 2012federal court decision that vacated the Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) as well as on the outcome of continuing legal challenges to stationary source rules.

Through at least 2018, the agency plans to continue “vigorous” civil and criminal enforcement to achieve its goals—including to reduce air pollution from coal power plants and to ensure compliance with climate change standards, specifically, the GHG Reporting rules. It is investing in a “new paradigm” called “Next Generation Compliance,” that will achieve better compliance results by taking advantage of new information and monitoring technologies, the draft reveals. “Advanced pollution monitoring technologies allow us to identify pollution issues, and can be used by both government and industry to find and fix pollution and violation problems. Next Generation Compliance supports EPA’s new E-Enterprise initiative by promoting electronic reporting, advanced monitoring, and transparency. Electronic reporting allows for more accurate and timely information on pollution sources, as well as public access to pollution and compliance information,” it says.


Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)