AgWatch


New Clean Power Plan Aims To Tackle Climate Change, Gets Mixed Reviews

SARA WYANT

WASHINGTON, D.C.
   The Obama Administration is moving forward with a plan to dramatically change the way electricity is produced in this country as part of an “historic effort to address climate change,” but critics of the “Clean Power Plan” are already charging that the plan will increase electrical costs and force some coal-fired plants in Rural America to shut down.
   First outlined in 2014 and officially unveiled by the White House on Monday, the plan demands that power plants cut their carbon dioxide output by 32 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels. Power plants are the largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S., generating 32 percent of the total emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
   The White House says the final plan sets “flexible and achievable standards” to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and enables states to develop tailored implementation plans to meet those goals.
   President Obama said the plan includes the first-ever EPA standards on carbon pollution from U.S. power plants. Each state will have the chance to create its own plan, but he said that: “We’ll reward the states that take action sooner.”
   State plans are due in September of 2016, but states that need more time can make an initial submission and request extensions of up to two years for final plan submission. The compliance averaging period begins in 2022 instead of 2020, and emission reductions are phased in on a gradual “glide path” to 2030. 
   White House officials rolled out a fact sheet noting the public benefits of the plan and related clean air policies, including:
   • Reduce premature deaths from power plant emissions and decrease the pollutants that contribute to the soot and smog and can lead to more asthma attacks in kids.
   • Create tens of thousands of jobs while ensuring grid reliability;
   • Drive more aggressive investment in clean energy technologies than the proposed rule, resulting in 30 percent more renewable energy generation in 2030 and continuing to lower the costs of renewable energy.
   • Give a head start to wind and solar deployment and prioritize the deployment of energy efficiency improvements in low-income communities that need it most early in the program through a Clean Energy Incentive Program; and 
   • Continue American leadership on climate change by keeping us on track to meet the economy-wide emissions targets we have set, including the goal of reducing emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and to 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.
   Saying that both coal and natural gas will remain important parts of the U.S. energy mix in 2030, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy explained that “All we are doing is looking for the most cost-effective, flexible way that we can cut carbon pollution and allow states to actually drive those decisions home.”
McCarthy said action is needed now and that even farmers know the weather is getting more extreme. 2014 was the hottest year in recorded history, and 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all occurred in the first 15 years of this century, according to EPA.
   “Longer, hotter summers and more intense storms and droughts are affecting their bottom lines,” McCarthy noted. “Here’s the really great news. Our country’s clean energy transition is happening faster than anybody anticipated, even as of last year when we proposed the rule. The accelerating trend toward clean power and the growing success of energy efficiency efforts means that carbon emissions are already going down and the pace is
picking up . . .”
   Reaction to the final Clean Power Plan was mixed.
   National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson offered appreciation for the administration’s efforts to address the causes of climate change but said the Obama administration is missing an opportunity to work with family farmers.
   “Farmers can avoid GHG emissions and sequester carbon in the soil. Given the correct policy and financial incentives, farmers can mitigate climate change less expensively and more quickly than the rural power cooperatives that serve them. Instead, these cooperatives will have to raise rates to comply with today’s rule,” Johnson said in a statement. “The final rule does not allow states to comply by working with farmers to secure offsets for their emissions.” NFU urged the EPA to consider such offsets in state compliance plans due next summer.”
   National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) CEO Jo Ann Emerson said she is still in the process of reviewing the plan, but that, “any increase in the cost of electricity most dramatically impacts those who can least afford it, and the fallout from the EPA’s rule will cascade across the nation for years to come.
   “While we appreciate the efforts intended to help offset the financial burden of rising electricity prices and jobs lost due to prematurely shuttered power plants, the final rule still appears to reflect the fundamental flaws of the original proposal. It exceeds the EPA’s legal authority under the Clean Air Act, and it will raise electricity rates for our country’s most vulnerable populations while challenging the reliability of the grid,” Emerson said in a statement. 
   Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and other Republicans were more critical about the plan’s economic impacts.
“The Obama EPA strikes again,” he said. “This backdoor national energy tax will hurt jobs, cause costs to skyrocket, and threaten grid reliability. While all South Dakotans are likely to feel the pain of this burdensome new regulation, low-income families and seniors living on fixed incomes will be hit the hardest.”
For South Dakota to meet its state reduction target, Thune said that the recently overhauled Big Stone Plant in Big Stone City, S.D.  would likely have to shut down for at least part of the year. The coal-fired plant, which is nearing completion of a $384 million environmental upgrade to meet the EPA’s Regional Haze and Utility MACT regulations, will soon be among the cleanest in the country. Yet, under the Clean Power Plan, this investment would be stranded and its sunk costs passed on to ratepayers.”
“Middle and low-income families are hit the hardest by bad energy policies resulting in higher utility bills, as these families already spend a larger part of their paycheck on their energy bills,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-MO. “Electric service providers in Missouri have warned that the EPA’s so-called Clean Power Plan will raise energy costs for Missourians, reduce jobs, and hurt our state’s economic competitiveness.
   Blunt and others have been working to block implementation of the final rule. For example in May, U.S. Senators John Boozman and Tom Cotton, both Republicans, helped introduce the Affordable Reliable Energy Now Act (ARENA), which is designed protect states from enforcing the law.
   “The Obama climate plan is all pain and no gain. It raises costs and destroys jobs, but it doesn’t truly impact the global climate…..It will also protect states that exercise their ability under the law to say “no” when the EPA pressures them to impose state-level mandates. I urge support for these commonsense reforms,” Boozman said.
   Despite the criticism, there were also many supporters, including the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). Collin O’Mara, NWF’s president and chief executive officer, was very supportive of efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
   In a statement, he said that, “These flexible, achievable, science-based rules represent real progress for protecting wildlife and America’s outdoor heritage from the worst impacts of climate change.
   “The steps proposed are broadly popular, both with voters at large and with sportsmen. Hunters, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts experience firsthand how climate impacts are threatening wildlife from coast to coast – from fueling warming trout and salmon runs to toxic algae in Lake Erie and Florida; from record droughts in Texas and California and wildfires destroying forest habitat across the west; and from extreme storms along the East Coast to accelerating erosion in the Gulf. Conserving wildlife, protecting our clean air and water, and safeguarding our communities all require that we reduce carbon pollution.
   “The President has provided states with the flexibility necessary to achieve meaningful reductions in a way that unleashes American innovation to maximize benefits and strengthen the economy,” O’Mara said. ∆
   SARA WYANT: Editor of Agri-Pulse, a weekly e-newsletter covering farm and rural policy. To contact her, go to: http://www.agri-pulse.com/
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