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Clean Power Plan Exempts Major CO2 Emitters

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The proposed Clean Power Plan, which aims to slash carbon emissions from existing electric power plants burning fossil fuel, may allow some of the most polluting coal-fired power plants in the country to continue operating without having to slash their emissions.

The Navajo Power Plant near Page, Ariz.
Credit: Troy Snow/flickr

All of those plants are on Indian reservations in New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, and their CO2 emisions are excluded from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's calculations of the carbon emissions rate cut goal for the state in which each of those plants exists.

By 2030, the U.S. would see carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants using fossil fuels fall by 30 percent below 2005 levels if the Clean Power Plan, announced on June 2, is finalized in 2015. 

Each state has a different goal to meet based on a variety of factors, including how much renewable energy is produced there and the energy efficiency programs each state has implemented.

But those rules don’t yet apply to Indian reservations within those states, or to U.S. territories.

They don’t apply to Vermont or the District of Columbia, either, because neither has a fossil fuel-fired power plant within its borders.

“Our approach to setting goals requires data on each covered power plant as well as information on each state, tribe or territory’s historical renewable energy generation and energy efficiency programs,” EPA Press Secretary Liz Purchia said. “Because none of the territories or tribes have reported historical renewable energy generation or energy efficiency program data to the U.S. government, EPA did not establish goals for the territories or tribes in the proposal.”

A Utah natural gas-fired power plant and three major coal-fired power plants are exempt from the emissions cuts goals in Clean Power Plan, including two on the Navajo Reservation, the Navajo Generating Station in Arizona and the Four Corners Generating Station in New Mexico; and the South Point Energy Center on Fort Mojave Indian Reservation in Mohave Valley, Ariz.

The Navajo Generation Station emitted more than 15.4 million tons of CO2 in 2012 The South Pont emitted about 530,000 metric tons that year, EPA data show.

The Four Corners power plant generated 13.2 million metric tons of CO2 that year, but a recent study shows that because it’s almost immediately next door to the San Juan Generating Station, which emitted nearly 11 million tons of CO2 in 2012 and is subject to the provisions of the Clean Power Plan, that region of northwest New Mexico is the largest single point-source of pollution anywhere in both North America and South America.

For now, tribal governments operating coal-fired power plants are not required to take any action under the proposed rule, which says tribal governments will be allowed to voluntarily set CO2 emissions goals for themselves.

Climate Central's calls and emails to the Navajo Nation requesting comment about any action the tribe might take to address CO2 emissions from its coal-fired power plants were not returned. 

Stephen Etsitty, executive director of the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency, said Tuesday Navajo tribal officials have been examining the Clean Power Plan since it was announced and will be meeting this week to discuss how to proceed. 

"It's too early to tell exactly what we're going to do," Etsitty said. "I can surely state that we're going to look very seriously at our opportunities to take on the responsibility to regulate CO2 from these two power plants and other sources that may become eligible in the future."

The Four Corners Power Plant near Shiprock, N.M. Credit: Arizona State University

Also excluded from the Clean Power Plan are fossil fuel-fired power plants in U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam and others.

U.S. territories emit few CO2 emissions compared to the rest of the U.S., totaling 58 million metric tons of CO2 in 2012. Just the electric power sector in the 50 states emitted more than 2 billion metric tons of CO2 in 2012, EPA data show.

The Clean Power Plan states that if the EPA decides it’s necessary by June 2015, the agency may propose a rule covering the four exempt power plants on Native American land and any other relevant power plant in the U.S. territories.

The EPA is seeking public comment on whether the agency should establish power plant emissions goals for Indian reservations and U.S. territories, according to a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report on the Clean Power Plan released last week.

Though the CRS report does not detail the Clean Power Plan’s exclusions, it serves as a basic 22-page primer on the proposal for members of Congress, said Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientsts’ Project on Government Secrecy, which posted the CRS report on its website because CRS reports are not directly available to the public.

Public hearings on the Clean Power Plan will be held in Denver, Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., at the end of July during a 120-day public comment period. 

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Comments

By Dave (Basking Ridge, NJ 07920)
on June 17th, 2014

The following statement is incorrect: “By 2030, the U.S. would see carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants using fossil fuels fall by 30 percent below 2005 levels if the Clean Power Plan, announced on June 2, is finalized in 2015.”

The plan calls for a reduction to 30 percent below 2005 levels – not by 30%. 2005 was a high emissions year. The difference between the actual plan and what the above statement implies is nearly a factor of 2 less in emissions reductions. In view of this and the fact that the reduction would take 16 years to achieve, the use of the word “slashing” to describe the emissions cuts seems inappropriate. It seems more like a small cutback to me – especially when you take into account US coal exports – which are currently running around 100 million tons a year with some talk going around of expanding that. That’s equivalent to about 370 million tons CO2 per year excluding shipping emissions.

Reply to this comment

By Stone (Ridgeland/Mississippi/39157)
on June 19th, 2014

Here is the most baffling component of this entire article:

“Our approach to setting goals requires data on each covered power plant as well as information on each state, tribe or territory’s historical renewable energy generation and energy efficiency programs,” EPA Press Secretary Liz Purchia said. “Because none of the territories or tribes have reported historical renewable energy generation or energy efficiency program data to the U.S. government, EPA did not establish goals for the territories or tribes in the proposal.”

What sense does that make? If this was a universal excuse as it were, that if no entity upon this Earth has a history of proposing renewable energy generation, then no proposal would be inclusive in establishing carbon reductions. To me, this is an obvious excuse constructed by our government to find a way to continue venting CO2 into the atmosphere. We can choose to continue ignoring this at the expense of detrimental consequences down the road, or we can start getting serious about carbon reduction. It is up to us.

Reply to this comment

By Blaine P. Allison (Farmington NM 87401)
on June 23rd, 2014

So let me get this straight, you both that commented on this drive electric car in which the electricity was derived renew-ably? And you make sure that the electricity that is powering your home and office is wind or solar? Have you even looked into the materials that go into a wind turbine or photo voltaic cell? Yeah they are mined just like the coal that powers these power plants. 30% lower carbon emissions is a lot when you look at the average age of these coal fired power plants in the US and the regulations they were built for at the time. Yes these power plants could be cleaner but so could everything else in this world. Maybe if the coal powered industry had all the subsidies that these green power producers have ( which account for less than 2% of the US’s power) it would be easier to fund the technology required. And natural gas power plant are just another way to keep american suckling at the tit of the petroleum industry. GO COAL!

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