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Draft rule reduction: 31.3% (479 lbs CO2 / MWh)

Editor's note: The following summary represents state and utility stances after the Supreme Court stayed the Clean Power Plan in February 2016.

In Pennsylvania, state officials are quietly working away with each other and stakeholders on options that would allow the state to comply with U.S. EPA's Clean Power Plan.

And even if the rule fails to survive legal challenges, the state is well on its way to meeting the Clean Power Plan's goal of cutting its power-sector carbon emissions rate by 33 percent by 2030.

"I know things appear to have slowed down because of the court challenge," said Gladys Brown, chairwoman of the Public Utility Commission, in late October.

But that's just appearances, she said in an interview. "We continue to work" with the state Department of Environmental Protection and the PJM Interconnection, the region's grid operator, she said.

The PUC had dedicated four staff members to work with the DEP to answer questions and address the regulator's concerns, which center on ensuring that any compliance plan would ensure electric reliability and that the state continues to have a diversity of fuel sources.

After the Supreme Court stayed the EPA rule Feb. 9, then-DEP Secretary John Quigley confirmed that his office would continue to develop a plan to comply with the carbon rule. "We have decided not to change our pace or our trajectory," Quigley said.

The Keystone State faces an easier emissions rate goal in the final rule compared with the draft: 1,095 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour, rather than 1,052 pounds of CO2/MWh.

As of 2016, coal has fallen to the No. 3 source of energy generation, with natural gas taking the top spot, followed closely by nuclear.

While Pennsylvania raised serious concerns about EPA's Clean Power Plan in its formal comments in 2014, its governor's office has since shifted from Republican to Democratic control. In a statement, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said he was "committed to making the Clean Power Plan work."

In its comments to the DEP on how the state should meets its Clean Power Plan target, the Public Utility Commission wrote, "a key element of [Pennsylvania's state compliance plan] must be the preservation of existing benefits derived from the state's varied generation resources and fuel mix. If PA is able to design a state plan that accomplishes these objectives, the Commonwealth should be able to preserve its status as a net exporter of electricity."

Pennsylvania relies heavily on nuclear power, trailing only Illinois in total nuclear generating capacity, and the preservation of the state's existing nuclear generation is a key concern. Coal still accounts for about a third of Pennsylvania's electricity, though, and according to the Department of Energy, Pennsylvania ranks third in overall carbon dioxide emissions.

The DEP held more than a dozen listening sessions across the state, in addition to a two-month comment period on the rule and EPA's proposed federal plan.

Quigley expressed interest in a compliance plan that would take advantage of multistate allowance trading options. He later said Pennsylvania has been in "active conversations" with other states served by the PJM Interconnection regarding "trade-ready" plans that would allow for the buying and selling of carbon allowances across state lines.

"I think it's fair to say that the Clean Power Plan is easy to meet in Pennsylvania, and it's not a big stretch at all," said John Hanger, a former DEP secretary and a onetime member of the state PUC.

"It's very easy for the state to do it. We're almost at 2030 levels now in terms of emissions. We're getting close. We're already at the 2025 level. We've gone from basically 134 million tons down to 106 million tons in 2014. We have to get basically to 90 million tons" under the EPA rule, Hanger said. "And that decline has accelerated in 2015 and 2016."

Last updated on November 2, 2016 at 2:18 PM

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