EPA’s Clean Power Plan and Coal

Ryan Pollin for Zondits, May 29, 2015. Image credit: uhu_bild

Last June, the EPA announced the Clean Power Plan, a set of policy targets that aims to lower carbon emissions in the United States. Its key objectives are to cut power sector carbon pollution by 30% from 2005 levels by 2030 and to reduce smog-forming emissions like SOx and NOx 25% by 2030. In the past year, components of the plan – emissions standards for new power plants, and then for existing power plants ‒ have been published and been opened for public comment.

This summer we expect the EPA to issue final rules on the regulations for new and existing power plants along with a federal plan for meeting their stated goals. By next summer, every state in the union is expected to submit a compliance plan for meeting these goals. Compliance with the new policies is expected to begin in the summer of 2020, which leaves some room for the expected lawsuits from the carbon-loving crowd. Of note is the state of Kentucky, which passed state legislation trying to exempt itself, but upon closer look learned that they are likely to be compliant!

The Energy Information Agency, which is responsible for collecting and analyzing energy information for policymakers, puts our national coal capacity at 318 gigawatts as of 2011. Since 2013 they had been projecting about 60 gigawatts of coal capacity to retire before 2020. Much of this is due to existing policies on coal combustion and emissions, an aging plant fleet, and the market’s current preferences for cheap gas. As recently as last week, the EIA has stated that they expect an additional 50 gigawatts in coal retirement directly due to compliance with the Clean Power Plan. Much in the same way as the DOE’s lighting efficacy standards have effectively boxed out the incandescent lamp, so too, it seems, will the EPA’s Clean Power Plan begin to box out coal.

Thinning the power plant herd of 110 gigawatts of coal in less than a decade is a significant step towards a carbon-free future. Meanwhile our new climate ally across the Pacific, China, is continuing to show signs of decoupling its economic growth from coal, a critical variable in the global climate models.