Tuesday, June 10, 2014
Environment - More on the new carbon limits
The cries of protest have been fierce, warning that President Obama’s plan to cut greenhouse gases from power plants will bring soaring electricity bills and even plunge the nation into blackouts. By the time the administration is finished, one prominent critic said, “millions of Americans will be freezing in the dark.”The Hill had a long June 8th story by Laura Barron-Lopez that reported:
Yet cuts on the scale Mr. Obama is calling for — a 30 percent reduction in emissions from the nation’s electricity industry by 2030 — have already been accomplished in parts of the country.
At least 10 states cut their emissions by that amount or more between 2005 and 2012, and several other states were well on their way, almost two decades before Mr. Obama’s clock for the nation runs out.
That does not mean these states are off the hook under the Obama plan unveiled this week — they will probably be expected to cut more to help achieve the overall national goal — but their strides so far have not brought economic ruin. In New England, a region that has made some of the biggest cuts in emissions, residential electricity bills fell 7 percent from 2005 to 2012, adjusted for inflation. And economic growth in the region ran slightly ahead of the national average.
The administration is giving states broad flexibility on how they meet Environmental Protection Agency targets for existing power plants to reduce their carbon emissions 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.A June 7th NYT story by Trip Gabriel is headed "Though Not Quietly, Kentucky Moves to Cut Reliance on Coal." Some quotes:
Under the rules, states may take actions to reduce pollution that aren’t directly related to power plant emissions. A state could avoid retiring a power plant by investing in cleaner technology, push energy efficiency programs that will cut demand, or invest in wind and solar, according to the EPA.
That latitude marks an unprecedented move by the agency, which typically specifies methods of reducing emissions solely for power plants. * * *
Legal observers, though, aren’t sure the EPA’s maneuver will pass muster in the courts.
Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA has the power to mandate states apply "the best system of emissions reductions," to existing power plants.
Critics say the EPA is now using a definition of “best system” that is too broad. Traditionally, the agency used “best system” to refer to specific technologies or practices to reduce pollution from plants.
Now the EPA is defining “best system” to include other flexible options states can use, including cleaner, renewable energy sources to meet the agency’s reduction targets.
A top agency official said the EPA is not bending the Clean Air Act, it is simply changing the pollutant it applies to it, and looking beyond carbon technology for ways to reduce power sector emissions.
The EPA official acknowledged that it was a completely new approach, but said the agency considered the legal implications surrounding it before proposing the rule. The official said EPA wouldn’t have issued the rule if they didn’t think it would be upheld.
Here in coal country, the reaction from politicians and the coal industry to President Obama’s climate plan has been swift and close to apocalyptic.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican minority leader, called the proposed rule “a dagger in the heart of the American middle class.” His Democratic opponent in a fierce Senate race this year, Alison Lundergan Grimes, matched his outrage, accusing the president of “targeting Kentucky coal with pie-in-the-sky regulations that are impossible to achieve.”
But beyond the campaign rhetoric, even here in Kentucky, which ranks No. 1 in the nation in carbon emissions per unit of electricity produced from all sources, others more quietly are saying that doom may not be at hand. In drafting its regulation, the Environmental Protection Agency listened to energy-rich states like Kentucky and offered wide flexibility to meet its requirement, the most aggressive federal effort yet to address climate change. Despite cries of a “war on coal” that echo through mining country in eastern Kentucky, the region is already taking hardheaded steps toward a post-coal economy.
John Lyons, Kentucky’s assistant secretary for climate policy, is cautiously optimistic that the carbon limits will not raise electric prices sharply enough to drive out manufacturers, who set up in the state for rates that are among the lowest in the country.
“I think our electric prices are going to go up, regardless of what’s done with this rule,” he said.
Representative John Yarmuth, a Democrat from Louisville, said Kentucky had already been moving toward a future less reliant on coal because of competition from cheaper, cleaner natural gas.
“If you add all the numbers up, we can probably comply with the terms of the rule with very little impact, if any, because everybody’s heading in that direction to begin with,” he said. “Anybody who’s actually looked at the subject understands coal is going to play a dramatically reduced role in our nation’s energy portfolio.”
In drafting its regulation, the E.P.A. endorsed a 23-page “white paper” that Kentucky’s energy department sent last year asking that states be given wide flexibility in reducing carbon. Rather than regulate emissions from every smokestack, the E.P.A. is giving states an overall target to meet — in Kentucky’s case, a reduction of 18 percent of carbon pollution by 2030. The target is lower than for many states, taking into account Kentucky’s heavy coal habit, which accounts for 93 percent of its electricity.
The state has great flexibility in devising a plan to reach the goal. It can include switching plants from coal to natural gas, developing renewable energy like solar, and encouraging the use of efficient home appliances and insulation to reduce demand. And none of it will happen immediately: Any shutdowns are years away, as the E.P.A.’s proposal faces a political and legal onslaught.
But it is clear that if the plan goes into effect, there will be short-term disruptions, including to local economies tied to individual coal plants that might close, and in mining regions like eastern Kentucky, where the number of coal jobs is already at a historic low. The E.P.A. estimated that coal production in central Appalachia would fall by up to 37 percent as a result of its proposal.
Posted by Marcia Oddi on June 10, 2014 10:53 AM
Posted to Environment