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‘Nuff Said: CO2 Emissions Plan Moves to Next Step

The coal industry calls it a devastating volley in a “war on coal,” while the Obama administration considers it major progress in its fight against climate change.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan comes with a dry name, but it’s one of the most significant ways the federal government is trying to curtail carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. to combat global warming. With the passing of the Dec. 1 deadline for public feedback, the EPA moved this week to the next step of the plan’s approval process.

A coal-fired power plant in Wyoming. The Clean Power Plant aims to slash CO2 emissions from these kinds of electric power plants.
Credit: Greg Goebel/flickr

More than 1.6 million people, companies and organizations sent the EPA their thoughts on the plan, which, if approved in 2015, would slash CO2 emissions from existing power plants running on fossil fuels. The EPA is giving states wide latitude in how they cut that pollution, allowing them to go it alone or collaborate with other states.

“We’ve heard from people who support EPA moving forward with the Clean Power Plan and people who don’t,” EPA acting assistant administrator Janet McCabe said in a blog post. “We’ve heard that the carbon reductions targets we proposed are too tough and we’ve heard that they’re not tough enough.”

So what’s the big deal about the Clean Power Plan? Here are the basics in a nutshell:

What Is The Clean Power Plan?

The plan, proposed in June, aims to slash U.S. CO2 emissions from fossil fuel-fired power plants 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Each state has a unique CO2 emissions reduction goal based on several factors: its CO2 emissions rate, how much renewable energy the state produces and consumes and the efficiency of both its power plants and consumers’ use of electricity.

Why Is It Controversial?

Coal-producing states see the Clean Power Plan as an attack on their coal mining industry, jeopardizing jobs as utilities move away from coal and toward natural gas and renewables as primary fuels for electric power generation.

Utilities say the plan doesn’t allow them enough time to implement emissions cuts, especially intermediate emissions goals required to be met before 2030, something that could mean high costs for utilities and more expensive electric bills for consumers. Some federal energy regulators object to the plan because they say building many new natural gas power plants to replace coal plants isn’t realistic, and the plan could cost hundreds of billions of dollars to implement.

But northeastern states already collaborating to cut emissions say the plan is not only effective, but they’ve proved through the nine-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative that it can work. Those states created a regional CO2 emissions budget, capping their emissions this year with a plan to reduce them 2.5 percent each year through 2020.

What Are The Next Steps?

The EPA says it expects to finalize the Clean Power Plan by June 2015 barring any legal challenges. The new Congress, which is expected to be hostile toward efforts to cut CO2 emissions when it takes office next year, is also expected to use numerous committee hearings to slow the process and use spending bills to cut the EPA’s funding.

So, even though the plan is scheduled to be enforceable by the middle of next year, the process is likely to be fraught and the likelihood of it actually slashing the CO2 the Obama administration has set out to cut is simply anybody’s guess. Stay tuned. 

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