NRECA: EPA’s Landmark CO2 Rule Remains Flawed

From the Aug. 4, 2015 Electric Co-op Today —

NRECA CEO Jo Ann Emerson said the nation’s electric cooperatives remain concerned that the Obama administration’s new high-profile greenhouse gas regulations go too far and too fast at the expense of affordable and reliable electricity.

After Administrator Gina McCarthy briefed reporters on EPA’s new greenhouse gas regulations, NRECA CEO Jo Ann Emerson said the rules go too far.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s rule on emissions from existing power plants exceeds its authority under the Clean Air Act and is certain to raise the price of electricity, Emerson said as EPA finalized its Clean Power Plan.

“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,” she said.

The plan, which EPA estimated will cost about $8.4 billion in compliance, calls for a 32 percent reduction in carbon dioxide from the power sector by 2030 from 2005 levels.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy reviewed highlights of the plan during an Aug. 2 conference call with reporters, prior to the formal release of the rule the next day. Experts say the regulations could undergo years of court challenges; McCarthy said the way the rule is designed puts it on solid legal footing.

After receiving more than 4 million comments, McCarthy said EPA made changes in its final plan from a draft proposal it issued in June 2014.

EPA still will give each state a numerical target for reducing carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. However, the overall 2030 target of 32 percent has been upped from an earlier 30 percent target.

In response to utility complaints, a first round of required reductions has been pushed back to 2022, instead of 2020. States also have additional time and strategies to meet the regulations, McCarthy said. Final state implementation plans are due at EPA in 2018.

“Based on public feedback, we’re finalizing a plan that mirrors how electricity already moves around the grid. We’re setting fair, consistent standards across the country and we’re giving states and utilities the time and flexibility they need to adopt strategies that work for them,” she said.

McCarthy said the agency will set up a new fund to help states build renewable energy projects to ease the transition to alternative energy sources.

That will mostly cut into coal generation, which she said drop to just 27 percent of the U.S. energy mix by 2030 as coal plants shut down or retool in response to the changes.

Compared with the 2014 proposal, the final version of the Clean Power Plan relies more on renewables and energy efficiency than on natural gas, she added.

McCarthy acknowledged it is a lengthy document, joking that readers should bring their toothbrushes. Emerson said NRECA will have additional comments on the rule after it has time to review it.

“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,” Emerson said.