Carbon Emission Plan and the States

After the Environmental Protection Agency finalizes rules on reducing carbon emissions in mid-2015, states will have a year to develop a plan for reduction.

The goal is to reduce the “pollution to power ratio of covered fossil fuel-fired power plants in a given state,” Janet McCabe, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, said in a blog post explaining the rules. 

The EPA is targeting a 30 percent reduction in carbon emissions below 2005 levels by 2030. The rule stems from the Obama administration’s 2013 Climate Action Plan, which included a presidential memorandum directing the EPA to complete carbon emission standards for the power sector. This plan is part of the EPA’s response to that directive. It only affects states that rely on fossil fuel-fired power plants, according to an EPA fact sheet. Vermont and Washington, D.C., for example, are not included in this rule because they don’t have such plants.

While the overall goal is to reduce the country’s carbon emissions 30 percent by 2030, each state has a different target goal, which was established through an EPA formula. Some states will be required to reduce carbon emissions by more than 30 percent, some by less. States can meet the targets through plant upgrades, switching from coal to natural gas or improving energy efficiency, according to an analysis of the rule by The Washington Post

To determine each state’s carbon intensity goals, the EPA developed a formula using a baseline of current carbon dioxide level per megawatt hour—a baseline that does not factor in a state’s renewable power generation like wind and solar. From the baseline, the proposed plan set a target considering each state’s “opportunity” to reduce carbon emissions given its current power infrastructure. For example, Indiana is required to decrease its emissions by 20.4 percent by 2030, while Washington state is required to reduce its emissions by 71.8 percent.

The EPA determined each state’s opportunity to cut emissions using four major building blocks:

  • More efficient coal plants;
  • More effective and efficient use of natural gas plants;
  • Increased use of renewable energy sources like wind and solar energy; and
  • Energy efficiency.

States already are digging into the rules to determine its impact, and many state officials don’t believe they have much flexibility in meeting the targets.

States that rely primarily on coal for power generation believe they are the most boxed in.

“The bottom line is the only way to comply with these rules will be to use less West Virginia coal,” West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin recently told The State Journal of Charleston. “We continually hear about the flexibility given to states, and we will look into more detail at what options that we may have, but ultimately the rules will require a shift away from coal.”

The new rules, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said in a prepared statement, “will be catastrophic, as a proud domestic industry is decimated—and many of its jobs shipped overseas.”

For those states to reach their target number, they will have to reduce emissions from existing coal-fired plants or find an alternative power source.

While state leaders have many unanswered questions, some officials are cautiously optimistic.

“I think EPA recognizes our issue and provided the flexibility that we had said was needed in order to meet whatever standards they put forward," John Lyons, assistant secretary for climate policy for the Kentucky Energy and Environment Department, recently told The Wall Street Journal. "I think they've done that. They pretty much laid out every option out there that you could think about."