Interest groups and politicians are jockeying for position as the Environmental Protection Agency gets ready to release proposed rules on carbon dioxide emissions for existing power plants.
The rules, expected to be released June 2, will affect Oklahoma utilities and cooperatives. They may have to mothball older plants or install emissions-control equipment, passing the costs along to customers.
While nobody except those inside the administration knows what’s in the proposed EPA rules, experts think they will hinge on several themes. One will be what baseline the agency uses to determine the expected cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. Another will be whether EPA lets states only consider cuts “inside the fence” at power plants or if it will let them include emissions reductions “outside the fence” from renewable energy or programs to cut demand for electricity.
Tom Vinson, vice president of federal regulatory affairs with the American Wind Energy Association, said using only cuts at the smokestack “inside the fence” won’t get to the level of carbon dioxide reductions preferred by President Barack Obama.
“Everybody — conservative states, liberal states, industry and others — have all said no matter how EPA sets the standard, we want as many different compliance options available to us as possible, including wind energy, because we want to put together the cheapest portfolio for our customers,” Vinson said.
The wind association released a study Tuesday showing Oklahoma avoided 6 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2013 as a result of the rise of wind power in the state. That amounted to almost 10 percent of the total carbon dioxide emissions by Oklahoma power plants last year.
Using a new EPA tool to measure emissions reductions, the association said wind power contributed to a nationwide reduction of almost 127 million tons of carbon dioxide last year, or 5 percent of the total carbon dioxide emissions in the power sector.
“Wind is widely available to states, it’s affordable and it’s reducing emissions by significant amounts in many states, and reducing emissions by at least some in nearly every state,” Vinson said.
Oklahoma ranked seventh in the country for carbon dioxide emissions reductions from wind energy in 2013, the wind association’s analysis found.
“That is a very significant amount, given that there’s a lot more potential for growth in the wind energy sector in your state,” Vinson said. “With wind energy as a compliance option, whatever they propose is going to be doable and it’s going to be affordable.”
Meanwhile, the Solar Energy Industries Association released its analysis of upcoming greenhouse gas rules Tuesday. It said solar was the fastest-growing source of renewable energy last year and is expected to generate enough electricity this year to offset 13.8 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
“For many states struggling to reduce their carbon emissions, solar can be a real game-changer,” said Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the solar association. “We have a very simple message to state regulators: Do the math.”
Last week, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt made a presentation at the Federalist Society in Washington outlining his plan for more state flexibility in implementing EPA rules.
The society advocates for judicial restraint, and its membership includes four conservative Supreme Court justices.
Pruitt, a Republican who has clashed several times with the Obama administration’s EPA, said the agency has moved away from the idea of “cooperative federalism” with the states for the Clean Air Act and other environmental laws. He introduced a plan to implement emissions reductions using a unit-by-unit, “inside the fence” approach that accounts for the differences in air-quality effects among the states.
“This approach preserves state primacy and does not turn over management of local power generation fleets to the EPA,” Pruitt said in a news release. “The Oklahoma attorney general’s plan keeps resource planning in the hands of state regulators with specialized expertise and a focus on ratepayer impacts and the protection of the public interest.”
In a legal analysis, Pruitt questioned whether the EPA has the authority to issue standards on carbon dioxide emissions from new and existing power plants. He said Congress would need to modify the Clean Air Act before the EPA can issue those regulations.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that the EPA could develop rules to cut carbon dioxide emissions from mobile sources such as cars and trucks. On Tuesday, the court declined to hear an appeal by Pruitt, Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. and a group of industrial consumers over a federal implementation plan to reduce emissions affecting visibility at national parks and wilderness areas.
Whatever the EPA proposes for cutting carbon dioxide from existing power plants, the issue is likely to end up in court, the wind association’s Vinson said.
The authority the EPA is using to issue regulations for existing power plants is an area of the law that is still unsettled, Vinson said.
“I think it’s virtually certain that somebody will sue, no matter what they do,” Vinson said. “It will either be some in the industry or some states if the EPA does something aggressive, or it will be the environmental community and some other states if the EPA does something that is perceived as weak.”
Everybody — conservative states, liberal states, industry and others — have all said no matter how EPA sets the standard, we want as many different compliance options available to us as possible, including wind energy, because we want to put together the cheapest portfolio for our customers.”
Vice president of federal regulatory affairs, American Wind Energy Association