Power Lines Blog

So Why Did We Go to Summer School? 
Major Flaws Already Evident in EPA Rule

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Imagine a group of college students who give up a lazy summer at the beach to go to summer school because they’d rather graduate early and start paying back those student loans at the earliest. But when the fall term starts, the university announces a new policy — no credits for any courses taken before the first day of the term. What!?

No university could get away with that. But looks like the Environmental Protection Agency can.

As our team here at the American Public Power Association wades through the 645-page rule to limit carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants, we haven’t seen a word about credit for early action.

Public power prides itself on the steps it has taken to lower CO2 emissions. As I explain in my earlier blog post, in 2012, the electric utility industry’s CO2 emissions were at their lowest level since 1994. Since 2007, those emissions fell by more than 12 percent. Between 2005 and 2012, public power utilities grew their usage of renewable resources by approximately 12 percent and educated customers on energy efficiency. These proactive measures were neither prescribed nor mandated. For public power, enhancing sustainability and curbing emissions makes good business sense; it represents “business as usual.”

The new EPA rule appears to give utilities no credit at all for these proactive measures leading up to 2012. Instead, the rule takes a snapshot of 2012 and all reductions are mandated from that point moving forward. In effect, utilities that have already done so much to curb emissions are being penalized.

We’re not saying our work is done. CO2 emission reduction will be an ongoing commitment for public power, no matter what. But utilities need credit for early action, for those extended summer courses they worked so hard on. They need to be recognized for being ahead of the game, for being good environmental stewards just because they wanted to be, not because anyone told them to.

The hype around the new EPA rule also touts the “flexibility” given to states for implementation. Really?  Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act tasks the EPA with creating guidelines for emission reductions for existing plants and handing these guidelines over to states so they can establish standards and tailor programs that factor in their unique situations and resources. However, the “flexibility” granted by the EPA to states in this rule is partly an illusion.  

States have had no say in the EPA standards setting process. The only flexibility they have is in terms of compliance, of how they hit the numbers prescribed by EPA. In reality they got a strictly prescribed, federally enforceable, and inflexible mandate, not “guidelines.”

As we continue to review this rule, we look forward to working with EPA to find solutions that are fair to all.

To be clear, public power utilities are committed to reducing CO2 emissions, and we don’t see that changing. We do, however, want to be sure that the steps that we have already taken are acknowledged, and that states are given real flexibility to meet EPA guidelines.

My thoughts are also reflected in APPA’s current position on the proposed EPA rule for carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants:

The American Public Power Association believes the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal for carbon dioxide emissions from existing fossil fuel-fired power plants goes well beyond what is permissible under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, and is strongly concerned about its potential impacts on public power utilities and their customers. The association is very disappointed that EPA has decided to set emissions guidelines that are not achievable at the affected source — the electric generating unit— and based on a 2012 baseline year rather than the announced 2005 baseline. In addition, APPA is very concerned that the emission reduction targets are “front loaded,” requiring most of the reductions by 2020-2022, and that utilities appear to get no credit for early actions they have taken to reduce emissions prior to 2012. Also of concern, among many others, is the lack of a safety valve or cost containment measures that would mitigate impacts to utilities and their customers in the event that the costs of compliance far exceed expectations. The proposed rule reinforces public power’s belief that the Clean Air Act is ill-suited to regulate carbon dioxide emissions and that Congress should determine the best framework to address climate change that ensures affordable, reliable electricity from all fuel sources, including coal and natural gas.

Joe Nipper

Joe Nipper

Senior Vice President, Regulatory Affairs and Communications

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