The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) proposed carbon rules for existing power plants amassed more than 1.6 million remarks before the public comment period ended on Monday. Here’s a snapshot of what states, regulators, industry groups, and environmental alliances told the agency about its Clean Power Plan.
Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont: The nine states participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI)—the market-based carbon emissions trading program covering the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic region—reiterated that additional cost-effective reductions under the plan can be achieved nationwide and that revisions to the proposed state targets are needed to ensure that early actions to reduce power sector carbon pollution are recognized. RGGI states also notably back a potential approach proposed by the EPA to allow states to convert rate-based targets to mass-based emission caps. Mass-based emission programs are the “most cost-effective, transparent, and reliable way to achieve emission reductions,” they said.
California, Colorado, Illinois, Oregon, and Washington: State officials from these states in another joint filing with the nine RGGI statesbacked the rule but suggested ways in which it could be clarified and refined. For one, they encouraged the EPA to provide states with additional flexibility to meet the interim goal by allowing options to credit certain reductions achieved before 2020.
Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming: The attorneys general of these 17 states in a joint filing declare the proposed rule has “numerous legal defects, each of which provides an independent basis to invalidate the rule in its entirety.” Foremost among their complaints is that the rule is unlawful because the EPA chose to regulate coal plants under Section 112 of the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. §7412. The text of Section 111(d) prohibits the EPA from invoking it when the “source category . . . is regulated under section  . . . ,” the states argue. At the same time, the EPA has not yet finalized its new source carbon rules under Section 111(b) (the states say that rule is also unlawful), which is legally necessary before any Section 111(d) regulation of those plants. Echoing a number of industry groups, the states also allege that the rule unlawfully expands the EPA’s authority to manage state power generation and usage, and that it includes inflexible mandates.
Texas: While the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) earlier in November said the rule could force retirements of between 3.3 GW and 8.7 GW of coal-fired capacity in the power-strapped state, the state’s Public Utility Commission called the rule “unachievable.” The PUC said that “in order for Texas to meet its interim mandate, approximately 77% of its [carbon] reductions must be accomplished by 2020.” If the EPA would not withdraw the rule entirely, it should consider removing the 2020 interim goal.
Edison Electric Institute (EEI): The association representing all U.S. investor-owned electric companies strongly urged the EPA to provide states with achievable emission reduction goals and compliance deadlines. “The transition to a cleaner generating fleet requires a great deal of time, infrastructure development and planning that EPA has not allowed for in the proposed guidelines’ compliance schedule,” it said. The plan’s interim goals force states to achieve much of the required reductions before 2020, which is not enough time. Among its other concerns are whether state emission-rate goals are achievable, echoing other industry groups’ claims that the agency has overestimated the potential carbon emission reductions that can result from each of the building blocks. One solution EEI suggests to the EPA is to eliminate the interim goals entirely. It also calls on the agency to expand its definition of “new nuclear” in the final guidelines to include those plants under construction or others that might be built through 2030 and beyond, power uprates, and nuclear plants relicensed to operate past initial license terms.
American Public Power Association (APPA): The association of more than 2,000 community-owned electric utilities flatly says that in its current form, the rule will create economic inefficiency, impose additional costs on electricity customers, threaten the reliability of the electricity system, and force risky over-reliance on a single fuel—natural gas— to generate electricity. APPA says the power sector should slash its carbon emissions, but it warns that the proposed rule is “trying to do too much too quickly.” It also disputes the EPA’s authority to promulgate the rule under Section 111(d). Ultimately, the group calls on the EPA to modify the rule to eliminate the interim reduction goal, allow all generating sources that emit no carbon to be used for compliance, and to provide full credit for investments already made—in renewables and energy efficiency—that reduce or offset carbon emissions.
The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA): Representing the nation’s more than 900 private, not-for-profit, consumer-owned electric cooperatives, NRECA called the rule “illegal, imprudent, and impossible to implement.” NRECA, which submitted its comments alongside 645,000 others filed by electric co-op advocates opposing the rule, outlined concerns about rate increases for co-op consumers. It also pointed to possible reliability issues, disputed the EPA’s authority to promulgate the rule, complained the rule is “recklessly complex,” and concluded that the EPA has made “faulty assumptions in each of the four ‘building blocks’ that result in unattainable emission reduction targets.” The agency has essentially “over-estimated” opportunities to improve power plant efficiency, the availability of existing gas units to displace coal, and “grossly underestimated” the costs of consumer energy efficiency improvements, especially in rural areas.
Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI): The nuclear power sector’s policy organization criticizes the rule, saying its “treatment of nuclear is fundamentally flawed.” Despite the agency’s intent, the rule “will not preserve nuclear power plants at risk of premature shutdown,” NEI says. The rule fails to provide incentives for new nuclear plant construction. In addition, the proposed rule creates a “significant, inappropriate and inequitable” penalty for Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee, where new reactors are being built. The reactors under construction are treated as though they are already operating at 90% capacity factors. “Output from those plants is added to the denominator when calculating the intensity target, thereby driving down those states’ emission rates,” it says. “For both existing nuclear generating capacity and nuclear capacity under construction, this approach is not grounded in fact, seems purely arbitrary, and is unacceptable.”
American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE): The partnership of industries involved in producing coal power railed against the proposed rule, and specifically, against the EPA. Among its arguments are that agency has no authority to regulate coal plants under Section 111(d), is usurping traditional state authority, and cannot set emissions guidelines based on “beyond-the-fence” measures. The ACCCE also argues that the proposal will “have no meaningful effect on global climate change.”
The National Hydropower Association (NHA): The group that works to champion hydropower as the “premier” carbon-free renewable energy resource said the rule “does not fully value hydropower’s contributions in reducing past and future levels of carbon emissions.” Because it uses a fossil emissions rate as its starting baseline for setting the state emissions rate reduction goals, the rule “artificially inflates” the carbon profile of states with significant existing hydropower generation. “Instead of recognizing and valuing the positive contributions hydropower generation makes, the proposed rule does exactly the opposite.” It also said the EPA should provide “more definitive and clear direction to the states that the agency supports new hydropower generation as a compliance option under the rule and that states are encouraged to examine ways to incorporate new hydropower generation into their planning.”
The Biomass Power Association (BPA): The industry group representing the nation’s biomass power producers lauded the EPA’s biogenic carbon framework (revised on Nov. 19 after several years of litigation), which provides clarity for how biomass factors into the Clean Power Plan and includes guidelines for the inclusion of biomass in each state’s carbon reduction strategy. The original June-released Clean Power Plan draft had left unresolved the question of how the agency would count biomass. The revision essentially declares that waste-derived materials, biogas and forest-derived industrial products are “likely to have minimal or no net atmospheric contributions of biogenic [carbon dioxide] emissions, or [could] even reduce such impacts, when compared with an alternate fate of disposal.” On Monday, the BPA called on the EPA to clarify that non-forestry cellulosic materials—like urban wood, wood-derived construction and demolition debris, and railroad ties—be specifically included in the definition of “waste-derived feedstocks” since these organic materials do not cause land use changes and do not deplete carbon stocks. The plan should also “recognize that EPA does not have the expertise or resources to set or enforce sustainability standards” as they apply to the plan’s inclusion of “sustainably-derived forest-derived feedstocks,” it said.
Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA): While the national trade association for solar power lauded the EPA for including solar as part of its definition of “best system of emission reduction,” it urged the agency to include distributed photovoltaic power as part of its final rule. Distributed PV is one of the largest and fastest-growing segments of the renewable energy market, SEIA said.
Center for American Progress, Center for Rural Affairs, Clean Water Action, Earth Day Network, Earthjustice, Environment America, Environmental Defense Fund, Environmental Law and Policy Center, Friends of the Earth, NextGen Climate America, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club. In a joint filing, these environmental groups backed the EPA’s authority to issue the rule under Section 111(d), but they urged the EPA to strengthen it, asking the agency to ramp up energy efficiency and renewable power requirements.
Other Significant Comments
Philip Moeller, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission: One of two Republicans on the five-member energy commission said the rule “will dramatically interfere with America’s competitive market forces, perhaps resulting in even more greenhouse gases in the future.” He was more worried about the implications of the plan on reliability of the nation’s electricity system.
—Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)
Update (Dec. 5): Adds BPA’s comments