NRDC's Doniger discusses policy proposal to cut power plant emissions

Would setting state-specific targets for power plant emissions satisfy state regulators and plant operators while still achieving environmental benefits? During today's OnPoint, David Doniger, policy director in the Climate and Clean Air Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, explains why he believes a patchwork of regulations for power plant emissions could be the most balanced approach for U.S. EPA to take.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi, joining me today is David Doniger, policy director in the Climate and Clean Air Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. David, thanks for coming on the show.

David Doniger: Hi, thanks for having me.

Monica Trauzzi: David, NRDC has just released a proposal on how EPA can best move forward with power plant emissions regulations. You're suggesting EPA do state specific targets. How would this work, and how would you avoid some of the negatives that come along with patchwork policies?

David Doniger: Well, power plants and power systems are different all across the country. Some places in the country use more gas, others more coal, so we need a plan that reflects fairly the mix in how power is generated. This part of the Clear Air Act, section 111, works for existing sources, it goes state by state, so it's quite an easy fit. You need a different starting point for each state reflecting the mix of coal and gas, and then each one makes improvements from where it starts.

Monica Trauzzi: Why haven't we had this discussion before?

David Doniger: Well, section 111-D is a little used part of the Clean Air Act. It doesn't come into play very often. It applies only when you're dealing with a pollutant that isn't covered by other parts of the law, and carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases, they are that pollutant. They are the first big use of this part of the law.

Monica Trauzzi: So then is there a challenge here for companies that do business in several states? Might they find a challenge for themselves if they're having to comply with different sets of standards?

David Doniger: Well, we try to accommodate that by saying that any two states, any three states, whatever, could decide to join up their programs and open the doors of the state border for the compliance mechanisms that we make available under our plan to keep the cost down and to make this a job creator. So it could become a regional program if it fits better with the desires and needs of those states, but that's a state option. A lot of our plan is focused on creating options for states and options for compliance by the sources as flexibly and as fairly as possible while getting the job done.

Monica Trauzzi: So how do you envision this in terms of the federal state partnership? Is this a federal program or is the federal government going to be handing over a lot of power to the states?

David Doniger: It stems from the Clean Air Act. It doesn't start with an air quality standard, it starts with a performance standard. But in that sense, there's a federal standard which the states have to write plans to meet, and we would have that federal standard vary from state to state as I said, reflecting the power mix, the generation mix, in each state. So it's one formula, every state would easily determine what its target is applying that formula to its own mix of coal and gas generation in the baseline period which we picked as 2008 to '10, a recent period, and then they go from there.

Monica Trauzzi: So are then somewhat cleaner states those that have taken steps to implement more renewables or perhaps less reliant on coal? Are they disadvantaged because they'll be regulated more heavily from the start?

David Doniger: No. Actually the coal heavy states benefit from having a higher starting point, but they would be expected to make a slightly faster rate of improvement. So we think it's fair. The emission rates of the coal states get closer to those of the gas states, but they don't converge in the time period we're talking about, we go out to 2025, by which time EPA would be reviewing and revising the standard to look out further into the future.

Monica Trauzzi: Many folks in industry are not looking forward to these standards. In your proposal you say that it's meant to satisfy both state regulators and plant owners. What's the reaction been? Have you heard any plant owners coming out and saying, "This is fantastic"?

David Doniger: Well, we've gotten very positive reactions from many companies in the power sector which we have briefed so far. We haven't briefed everybody. Actually yesterday I did brief EEI.

Monica Trauzzi: Can you give some names?

David Doniger: Yeah. Dominion, Next Era, Entergy, all three of them have spoken out to be very positive. Now, do they have a first preference for legislation? Some of them do. We're not going to get comprehensive legislation from this congress or the next one. Do they recognize that the Clean Air Act is the law of the land and EPA has obligations to address pollution from the power plants? Yes. So they're looking for a fair and flexible way to do it, and we really have tried to accommodate and anticipate what you need to do to get big reductions. And we're talking about one-quarter of the carbon pollution from the power plants being reduced by 2020, one-third being cut by 2025, all at a very low cost and very, very high benefits for both climate protection and straight up public health protection, because you also get a lot of additional reduction in sulfur and NOx pollution.

Monica Trauzzi: How much do we know so far about how EPA may move forward with these standards, and what role do you think this proposal is actually going to play?

David Doniger: I think EPA, the administration, they have a tremendous opportunity. They did a tremendous accomplishment with Clean Cars in the first term. This should be the marquis thing to do in the second term. They know they have legal obligations under the Clean Air Act, so they've been looking at EPA for cost effective, environmentally effective ways to proceed, and we think this is that plan. It cleans the air, it creates jobs, it keeps the cost down, so we offer this plan for everybody's consideration. Now, you can fiddle with the numbers, you can run them… We use the same model that EPA and the industry use, the IPM model from the ICF Corporation, and you can run all kinds of variations on our plan through that model and see what comes out. We welcome that discussion and we want to move forward.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, it will be interesting to watch as things move forward. Thanks for coming on the show.

David Doniger: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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