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Climate rules on hold?

April 05, 2017   By Jay Hudson in Environmental Stewardship

The Winyah Generating Station near Georgetown, S.C. has a generating capability of 1,130 megawatts and is an important part of Santee Cooper’s generation mix.

Last week, President Trump signed an executive order that begins to process of dismantling the Obama administration’s climate policies.

The centerpiece of the Obama climate legacy is clearly the Clean Power Plan (CPP), which regulates carbon emissions from existing coal-fired power plants.  The executive order directs EPA to immediately review the CPP, a regulation promulgated pursuant to section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act.  Following the issuance of the executive order, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt signed a Federal Register notice announcing that EPA is reviewing the CPP per the order and to quote “if appropriate, will initiate proceedings to suspend, revise or rescind the Clean Power Plan.”  

There were many problems with the CPP.  It was a state by state plan.  Each state had a starting point then a complexly derived carbon-dioxide (C02) reduction target to meet in 2030 based on the available non-carbon energy resources available in each state.

Each state was left to its own on how to comply with the target, with EPA approving each plan.   It started as a rate based plan, with the CO2 target in pounds per megawatt-hour. In an attempt to make things simple, EPA allowed for an alternative compliance option for mass of CO2 which in turn, made the CPP more complicated as states couldn’t trade rate to tons and vice versa. 

Per the president’s order, the CPP is on the way out.  Some states and environmental groups will fight the CPP review, but in the end, the administration will likely prevail.     However, there are still carbon targets such as the Paris Climate Agreement, which the U.S. is committed to.  Will another climate program take the CPPs place to meet these commitments?   If so, Congress will have to act. According to a story in the Feb. 7, 2017, edition of the New York Times, there has been talk from some right-leaning groups of a carbon tax, but any new tax is a very heavy lift in the current political environment. 

I would suggest that there were a few things to like about the CPP that could be picked up in any replacement climate program, such as a C02 rate-based compliance metric with trading--- and a regional specific, rate-based plan for existing coal-fired units with a gentle glide path that can be implemented over time. Twenty years would be a reasonable starting point.