Friday, March 21, 2014

How the EPA Could Cut Carbon Emissions Even More Than We Thought by 2020

(Credit: Natural Resources Defense Council) Click to enlarge.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s upcoming carbon rules for existing power plants could cut even more emissions than previously thought, according to a new analysis.

Back in 2013, a long legal battle over the Clean Air Act culminated with EPA releasing rules that will cut carbon dioxide emissions from new coal and natural gas plants.  In June of this year, the agency will release similar draft rules for already existing power plants, and then finalize them by June 2015.

But the legal language of the Clean Air Act gives EPA different scopes of power for new versus existing plants.  The agency can regulate the former pretty directly, but must partner with the states to regulate the latter.  Essentially, EPA sets up the broad system, and then each state must submit its compliance plan by July 2016.

To that end, the agency has been taking public comments on how to best design that system.  And arguably one of the best plans was submitted by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In March of 2013, the NRDC ran its framework through the same computer model that EPA and other government agencies use, which showed the plan would cut carbon emissions up to 24 percent from their current levels by 2020 — the “Moderate” scenarios in the graph above.  But since then, a lot of the data from the Energy Information Agency and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory — which NRDC built its proposal on — has been updated.  Based on those new numbers, NRDC re-ran its initial projections and added a set of more aggressive targets — the “Ambitious” scenarios above — and found the reduction in carbon emissions could hit 30 percent by 2020. (Or 31 percent if the production tax credit for wind is extended.)

According to NRDC, they added the Ambitious scenarios because “the cases based on the moderate emission rate targets showed minimal to low compliance costs.”  In plain English, when they ran the simulations, meeting the original emissions targets caused the power industry very little pain — which suggests more aggressive targets are entirely do-able.

How the EPA Could Cut Carbon Emissions Even More Than We Thought by 2020

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