White House toughens clean power targets, tweaks CCS terms

This story was updated at 10:14 p.m.

The Obama administration will compel the nation's power fleet to cut nearly one-third of its carbon emissions by 2030, deepening reductions and increasing incentives for renewable power.

President Obama will unveil the final Clean Power Plan during a high-profile appearance in the White House Rose Garden tomorrow afternoon.

The Clean Power Plan, together with rules for new and modified power plants, form the cornerstone of Obama's second-term Climate Action Plan. The administration hopes they will show U.S. progress ahead of this December's high-stakes round of U.N. negotiations in Paris, which aim to produce a global agreement to reduce the growth of carbon emissions and curb the impacts of climate change.


"If you look at the Clean Power Plan along with other major policy initiatives that this administration has pushed forward -- including landmark standards for fuel economy standards for cars and trucks -- we are putting the United States in the position of an international leader on climate change,” said Brian Deese, a senior adviser to the president. “You will continue to see the president and the administration pushing forward and working internationally to try to make sure that there's a level playing field and that all countries are coming together to try to reach an ambitious international agreement, as well."

When it comes to new power plants, U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told reporters that coal units would be able to meet standards with carbon capture and storage, but at a lower capture rate than previously proposed. A senior administration official later said coal plants can meet rule requirements with a range of technological options, including co-firing and, potentially, integrated gasification combined cycle technologies to turn coal into gas.

The rules will be a favorite target for Republicans on and off Capitol Hill. Coal industry groups and some states have already signaled their readiness to sue EPA to prevent them taking effect.

The final Clean Power Plan requires today's power fleet to cut CO2 emissions 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 -- an increase from the initial target of 30 percent in the draft rule issued in June 2014. It assigns states' reduction responsibilities based on three building blocks: heat-rate improvements at coal plants, a shift from coal to natural gas use and renewable energy.

In a change Greenwire reported yesterday, the rule will no longer base state targets in part on estimates about how much they could reduce power consumption, but energy efficiency will remain a compliance option (Greenwire, Aug. 1).

The rule will set uniform emissions rates for coal plants and set states' goals based on their energy mixes, which will make the differences in goals for states much more narrow, McCarthy said.

States would be tasked with submitting final implementation plans to EPA by 2018, and an interim compliance period would begin in 2022. Both deadlines are two years later than proposed in last year's draft. EPA also will provide a model plan states can adopt immediately, McCarthy said.

Nuclear power that is under construction will no longer be included in state goals, but states can use it as a compliance strategy, McCarthy said.

Also, “uprates of nuclear facilities will be credited [as part of a compliance strategy] because it’s new zero-carbon generation,” McCarthy said.

In several changes, the rule addresses criticism that state goal requirements would begin too soon and force coal power offline too quickly -- jeopardizing grid reliability and risking electricity price increases.

Emissions reductions will be phased in on a "glide path" to 2030 and paired with incentives for renewable energy and low-income energy efficiency programs in 2020 and 2021. The final rule requires states to address grid reliability in their plans, and it includes a "reliability safety valve" to address potential outages on a case-by-case basis.

EPA also will propose a federal implementation plan tomorrow, which will "provide a model states can use in designing their plans, and when finalized, will be a backstop to ensure that the Clean Power Plan standards are met in every state."

The final rule allows states to develop "trading ready" plans to opt in to emissions credit trading markets with other states, without formalizing interstate agreements.

"All low-carbon electricity generation technologies, including renewables, energy efficiency, natural gas, nuclear and carbon capture and storage, can play a role in state plans," according to a White House fact sheet.

Deese said the changes to the rule enhance the United States’ ability to achieve international commitments.

"When the United States leads, other nations follow. Since we proposed the rule last year, the U.S. has made joint announcements with China and Brazil, where each country made new commitments to cut carbon pollution. Since three of the world's largest economies have stepped up, we're confident other nations will follow and the world will reach a climate agreement in Paris later this year," McCarthy said.

Reporters Rod Kuckro and Elizabeth Harball contributed.

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