Center for Progressive Reform

The Clean Power Plan

Issues to Watch

With federal climate legislation no longer politically viable, the Obama Administration has abandoned efforts to achieve legislation tailored to address the problem, and instead turned to its existing authority under the Clean Air Act (CAA). Although an imperfect tool for the purpose, the law does allow the Administration — the Environmental Protection Agency, to be specific — to make important progress reducing carbon pollution from power plants. That regulatory effort has proceeded along two tracks, one that seeks lower emissions from new or rebuilt power plants, and one that seeks to reduce emissions from existing power plants.

That second track — existing power plants — is known as the Clean Power Plan, and it is the subject of this paper from the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR). The paper compiles 13 separately authored essays from 11 CPR Member Scholars, each addressing a different topic related to the Clean Power Plan, and each representing the expertise and views of its individual author(s).

Power plants are the single largest stationary source contributor to greenhouse gases (GHGs). Electrical generating units (EGUs) emit 32 percent of the nation’s GHG emissions, exceeding industry’s 20-percent contribution. EPA’s Clean Power Plan for addressing existing power plants could have a dramatic impact on the nation’s energy mix, its GHG emissions, and on accompanying co-pollutants.

In the Plan, EPA addresses power plant emissions through § 111 of the Clean Air Act. In September, 2013, EPA proposed its current approach to new power plants under § 111(b). In June 2014, EPA then issued the Clean Power Plan, the agency’s proposal for addressing existing power plants under CAA § 111(d).

As implemented by EPA, § 111(d) establishes shared federal and state authority — cooperative federalism, as it is known. Under this structure, EPA must first establish federal emission guidelines for source categories based upon the “best system of emission reduction … adequately demonstrated” (BSER) for reducing power plant emissions. It is then the states’ task to develop state implementation plans (SIPs) for meeting the federal guidelines — for showing how their existing sources will attain the federal standard. If states fail to submit an adequate SIP, EPA has the authority to promulgate a Federal Implementation Plan (FIP). In addition to finalizing its rule for existing sources, EPA will publish a proposed Federal Implementation Plan in the summer of 2015.

EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan presents the federal government’s emission guidelines for existing power plants. The Plan has sparked heated legal and policy debates because it takes a novel approach to establishing emission guidelines. The plan has defined BSER to include a range of activities that can reduce existing power plant emissions. These include not only “inside the fence” measures undertaken at the source, but also such “beyond the fenceline” measures that take place outside of power plants but reduce power plant emissions, such as increased use of existing natural gas, renewable energy, and consumer energy efficiency that reduces the demand for energy. By expanding the range of permissible reduction strategies, EPA has significantly increased the plan’s scope. Not coincidentally, this allows the Plan to make a much more significant dent in greenhouse gas emissions in a cost-effective way.

Marshalling CPR Member Scholars’ wide-ranging expertise on relevant legal and policy questions posed by EPA’s Clean Power Plan, this policy paper identifies a number of the key issues that CPR Member Scholars are closely watching as EPA finalizes its rule and proposes a FIP. The paper explains the issues and how the proposed CPP addressed them. The authors offer their unique perspectives on what to watch for in the final rule this summer and what states should do to achieve the most from EPA’s ambitious Clean Power Plan.


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