CLIMATE

EPA poised to push carbon rule compliance to 2022, according to agency document

U.S. EPA appears to be leaning toward giving states an extra two years -- until 2022 -- to start cutting carbon emissions from power plants under a final Clean Power Plan rule expected to be rolled out as early as Monday.

The rule will also provide more time for states to submit final plans, according to a timeline E&E obtained that was posted to EPA's website.

Moving out the compliance dates could strengthen support from states friendly to the Obama administration's climate plan and assuage the concerns of some critics. Across the political spectrum, state officials and energy companies have said more time is a concession EPA could grant in a final rule that would make it easier to cut greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 (ClimateWire, July 27).

The significant changes are reflected in a PowerPoint slide prepared by EPA's Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards, housed at the Research Triangle Park near Durham, N.C.

The slide was last modified Friday, July 24, according to digital records, by an employee who has been at the heart of the Clean Power Plan's development. It was taken down from the EPA website yesterday afternoon after E&E made an inquiry about its contents.

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EPA officials declined to speak on the record about the slide because the rule is not yet final. The slide notes a release date of Aug. 3 for the final rule.

It still calls for states to meet emissions goals under the rule by Jan. 1, 2030. But it extends the time states have to craft plans, requiring an "initial" state plan by Sept. 6, 2016, and a "final" state plan by Sept. 6, 2018.

The compliance dates are important in part because of global climate negotiations starting at the end of November. At the U.N.-sponsored Paris talks, the Obama administration is expected to point to the carbon regulations as evidence the United States is moving aggressively to slash greenhouse gas emissions. Environmental groups could be miffed by a final rule that pushes out compliance dates if it means a slower pace of cutting emissions through 2030.

States that unsuccessfully sued in a federal court to stop the release of a final rule could view the time extension as still not enough time to replace coal-fired power plants and ensure electric grid reliability. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a coal advocate, earlier this year urged governors to refuse to submit a state plan for cutting emissions. Still, there have been ongoing discussions among state officials, EPA and the White House about how to ease compliance while ensuring states are on paths to meet emissions targets.

In the draft rule, EPA originally required states to submit plans or requests for one-year extensions by 2016. Meanwhile, states working on multi-state plans to cut emissions could submit their proposals in 2018. Some states are considering coordinating informally and had asked EPA to allow them the same extra time as states working on multi-state plans. The change to the final rule would give those groups of states equal time to put together final plans.

The most significant change shown in the timeline pushes out the first emissions reduction requirements to Jan. 1, 2022, two years from the 2020 date originally proposed by the administration.

The White House Office of Management and Budget is reviewing the rule and did not respond to requests for comment. If OMB approves the new timeline, that would address some concerns about the Clean Power Plan's interim goals stretching from 2020 and 2029. States like Arizona have said the interim goals would amount to a regulatory "cliff," because they would require the shutdown of most or all coal-fired power plants by 2020.

Many sources have said the release date would be Aug. 4. But the Aug. 3 date was also affirmed in a memo to stakeholders from Eric Massey, director of the Air Quality Division of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.

Massey, in a memo, canceled a scheduled Aug. 4 meeting of its Clean Power Plan stakeholder group.

"Thanks to your ongoing participation and attention to the ADEQ stakeholder process, Arizona is well-positioned to respond to the upcoming EPA CPP rule," he wrote.

"The final rule now appears to be slated for an August 3rd announcement," Massey wrote.

In a subsequent interview, Massey said he was unsure now of the Aug. 3 date and that it could be later.

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