Clean Power Plan

The Clean Power Plan is a new regulation from the EPA to limit carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution from power plants. Between now and 2030, the rule will reduce CO2 pollution from the energy sector to 32% below 2005 emission levels, making it the most significant action the federal government has ever taken on climate.

Each state has been given an individual reduction goal and one year to design a plan to meet those reductions. To calculate each state’s goal, the EPA used three main approaches to reduce CO2 pollution: improving coal plant efficiency, generating more electricity from existing natural gas plants, and building more renewable energy generation.

The Council is working hard to ensure Pennsylvania develops a strong plan to meet its required emissions reductions. In particular we are urging Pennsylvania to focus on developing renewable power – not burning more natural gas, maximizing the implementation of energy efficiency, and ensuring that environmental justice communities are not disproportionately burdened by these changes.

What will the Clean Power Plan do?

America is one of the leading contributors to climate change, and 40% of our CO2 pollution comes from power plants. The Clean Power Plan would be the first regulation targeting these emissions, requiring each state to find ways to reduce its CO2 pollution. As mentioned above, the EPA set each state’s CO2 pollution reduction goal based on that state’s potential to increase generation from natural gas and renewable power, as well as improve efficiency at coal burning plants. States are not limited to these approaches, and the EPA expects that many will use other means to meet their goals (like increased energy efficiency or cap and trade programs).

Each state must submit a plan to reach the required reductions between 2016 and 2018. The EPA will then review and either accept or reject these submissions. For the states that don’t submit an adequate plan, the EPA will impose one on them.

The Clean Power Plan will make a big difference by cutting our greenhouse gas emissions through 2030, and its effects will continue beyond that. The Obama Administration predicts that the Clean Power Plan will lead to 30% more renewable energy in the United States, speeding the transition to the clean energy economy. It will also help future international agreements to combat climate change by showing that America is able and willing to make real, meaningful changes.

What is the Council doing?

Because every state has to produce its own plan, the Clean Air Council is focusing its efforts on Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is an electricity-exporting state, meaning it generates more power than it consumes. In fact, it ranks third on the list of top electricity-generating states. All this generation means that Pennsylvania produces a full 1% of the world’s greenhouse gasses, and this gives Pennsylvania a greater obligation to make meaningful cuts to its emissions.

The Council is taking a number of steps to ensure Pennsylvania produces a serious carbon reduction plan. To make sure the PA DEP knows that the Clean Power Plan is important to environmental health advocates and the public, our legal, policy, and outreach staff have attended PA DEP listening sessions, submitted formal comments, and brought in advocates and supporters to make their voices heard. Our lawyers are also fighting off attempts by industry and their supporters in the state legislature to weaken Pennsylvania’s plan. We have emphasized three main points throughout the process: using energy efficiency to reduce our future energy needs, developing renewable energy as opposed to natural gas to fill the remaining need, and ensuring that environmental justice communities are treated fairly with the end result of this process.

Energy Efficiency

The cheapest way to reduce our carbon footprint is to use less energy. Energy production from fossil fuels always involves some degree of pollution, so the less we use in the first place, the better off we are. Lower energy demand will also make it easier to meet our energy needs with renewable energy sources. That’s why the Council is pushing hard for energy efficiency to be the central focus of Pennsylvania’s plan.

First and foremost, energy efficiency is easy to implement and produces big payoffs. For example, Pennsylvania’s building codes are extremely outdated. The vast majority of them were originally recommended in 2009, and at this point are way behind other states’ codes. Updating building codes would cut energy consumption by 15% and could be the centerpiece of the state’s plan.

Next, increased energy efficiency produces a ripple of positive benefits beyond just reduced CO2 emissions. More efficient buildings use less energy, lowering consumer electric bills. Less energy produced also means fewer emissions of the other pollutants that come from power plants, such as sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and mercury. These pollutants can cause smog, bronchitis, brain damage, and even death, depending on exposure.

Lastly, energy efficiency is wildly popular. 97% of Pennsylvanians support it as a way to meet future energy needs. Entrenched interests are currently holding back many possible advances, and the Clean Power Plan provides a new opportunity for Pennsylvania to move forward.

Renewable Energy

Pennsylvania’s energy future is at a crossroads with the Clean Power Plan. With the boom in fracking leading to a glut of natural gas, we have the ability to burn more than ever and fill the gap left by reduced coal usage. But we also have the much better option of building more renewable energy, such as wind and solar, to fill that gap.

Now is not the time to phase out one fossil fuel just to promote the use of another. The ultimate goal of the Clean Power Plan is to curb the effects of climate change, and the switch from coal to natural gas doesn’t accomplish this. Industry likes to tout the fact that burning natural gas produces 50% less CO2 than coal. What they don’t mention, though, is that a huge amount of natural gas is lost to leaks each year, and that methane (the primary component of natural gas) is 86 times more potent at warming our planet than coal in the immediate future. These leaks mean that if Pennsylvania were to replace coal with natural gas, Pennsylvania’s CO2 reduction plan could be a net negative for the climate. Additionally, natural gas development creates many other environmental and public health hazards including toxic air pollutants that can lead to lung and heart disease and cancer, water contamination, and risks of explosions.

Renewable energy solves this problem. Pennsylvania currently takes advantage of less than a third of its wind-generation capacity of 4,000 MW, which is enough to power over a million homes. The state also has the potential to drastically increase its solar, geothermal, and small hydropower sources of energy. Zero-emitting forms of renewable energy guarantee climate and public health benefits because energy sources like solar and wind, unlike coal and gas, don’t emit any greenhouse gases or release other toxic chemicals as co-pollutants. The Clean Power Plan is an opportunity for Pennsylvania to invest in the clean energy economy, one we can’t afford to miss.

Environmental Justice

Low-income communities and communities of color are often most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. If our solution to climate change still manages to disproportionately harm these very communities, then it’s not a good solution. That’s why it’s critical that the PA DEP conduct a thorough environmental justice analysis of its compliance plan before submission. The PA DEP should also actively engage environmental justice communities throughout the plan design process.

For example, expanding natural gas-fired power plants in poor neighborhoods, or focusing energy efficiency upgrades in exclusively wealthy communities, are environmental injustices the Clean Power Plan could inadvertently bring about. For more information on environmental justice in the Clean Power Plan, check out the EPA’s Community Page here .

For more information on Council advocacy around the Clean Power Plan, contact Russell Zerbo at 215-567-4004 ext. 130 or rzerbo@cleanair.org.

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