Harmful greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector are a key driver of climate change and the single largest source of U.S. carbon pollution. Emissions from power plants alone account for almost 40 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S.


This is just one of the primary reasons why, back on August 3, 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created new rules to reduce the CO2 emissions from power plants and assist states in investing more in renewable energy and energy efficiency efforts. These new standards fall under the broad umbrella of new “Clean Power Plan” legislation.


The 1955 Air Pollution Act marked the first time the United States declared air pollution to be both public and environmental hazard. Until then, the nation did not recognize the need for emissions standards, nor fully understand their impact on public health and welfare. The Clean Air Act of 1963 established a more comprehensive set of laws to enforce the control of air pollution, expanding studies and research into its prevention and long-term effects. December 2nd, 1970, saw the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency.


The Clean Power Plan in Summary


The expectation of power plants throughout the U.S. is that they will set goals enabling them to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. An emissions rate of reductions required for each state is established by the Clean Power Plan rule. The reductions rate is based on the carbon dioxide amount for each megawatt-hour of power that is produced.


Reductions of carbon emissions required of the states include the following:

  • The range of reductions is from 7 percent in Connecticut to Montana’s 47 percent.
  • Since they are noncontiguous, Guam, Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico are not included in the rule.
  • Since Washington, D.C. and Vermont don’t have power plants considered to be under the framework of the EPA, they are excluded.
  • How much each state must reduce its carbon emissions below levels of 2012 are represented by the percentages.
  • By September 6, 2016, either a final carbon-cutting plan or an initial plan with a request for a two year extension is expected to be submitted by each state included in the rule. For resources for states to plan for emissions reductions refer to the EPA.
  • Starting in 2022, each state included in the rule is expected to begin working toward its emissions goals as well as meet its final goals by 2030.


States React


The Northeast Region: The states of the Northeast Region of the U.S. have, on the whole, expressed assurance of their ability to meet the demands of the CCP, even though some in this region are faced with more stringent goals for carbon emissions than other states nationwide. Leaders of states in this region are optimistic about their ability to meet compliance regulations because many have already begun working towards more efficient energy production. Many northeast states have made commitments (including carbon caps, coal plant closures and mandatory renewable electricity and energy efficiency standards) that put them more than halfway toward meeting their 2030 targets.


But this region is not without its dissidents. New Jersey, for instance, has opined that the CPP is “one size fits all” and not the right plan for the state, which has already cut its carbon emissions by one third since 2001. Unlike many states, New Jersey’s transportation sector is responsible for bulk of its emissions. The state has signed on with 28 others to block CPP policy from being implemented.


Coal-Dependent States of the Mid-Continent: The most significant long-term impact of the CPP will be felt by five states in the middle of the continental U.S. The five states impacted include Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio. Except for Pennsylvania, the remaining four of these states filed an emergency stay petition in federal court along with 11 other states (on January 21, however, the D.C. Circuit refused to grant opponents a stay of the CPP Rule).


Their opposition is due to the fact that these states are, politically and culturally, deeply invested in the coal industry and the generation of coal-fired electricity. In fact, the livelihood of entire communities of these states is dependent on the success of coal. Proponents of the plan say it’s hard for challenging states to prove how they will be hurt right off the bat, as they won’t be required to dramatically reduce emissions until 2022. But of course, plans to implement these cuts will have to go into effect much sooner.


Southeastern States: Some of the most stringent emissions targets have been set by the CPP for states in the Southeastern U.S. Of all the 47 states covered by the plan, the following southeastern states are expected to have difficulty adhering to the requirements of the CPP: Alabama, Maryland, Tennessee, Florida, and Virginia. One of Texas’ oldest energy retailers, Amigo Energy, has said that the intermittent nature of wind and solar – renewables that the state will need to scale up significantly – ensures that fossil fuels are here to stay.


The Intermountain West Regions and West Coast: The effects of the Clean Power Plan are expected to vary widely within the states of this region. States along the West Coast including California, Oregon and Washington expect to be able to comply with CPP regulations; California even going so far as to anticipate a boost in its economy as states look to borrow a page from renewable energy playbook. The state’s own rules are actually stricter and more far-reaching than the new federal rule.


Some of the Intermountain West states including Nevada and Colorado are optimistic about their ability to comply with the CPP. The “biggest losers” of the CPP in its final version are considered to be Montana and Wyoming. However, Montana, Utah and Wyoming are believed to have a huge potential for both renewable energy and wind power that has yet to be tapped. Opposition to the plan in this region is led by Utah and Arizona; the 52 percent reduction in emissions AZ is saddled with have caused many lawmakers in the state to voice their concerns.


Mid-Central South and Texas: Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas are all opposed to the plan. Faced with stringent requirements for emissions reduction, some stakeholders in Texas have challenged the calculations by the EPA determining its target. Texas’s compliance possibilities are expected to be debated during the upcoming months and, likely for years to come.


The Midwest: The upper Midwest region, including Minnesota and Iowa, seems to be on track in meeting the targets of the plan. However, the states of Michigan, Kansas, and North and South Dakota face reductions in their carbon emissions rate they believe are not attainable. State officials of Wisconsin and Nebraska have found it necessary to petition for an emergency stay of the CPP as well as to consider legal action to question the authority of the EPA. These states are heavily dependent on coal and do not have renewable portfolios that are effective. Some people have stated that the only cost-effective way for the Midwest states to reach their required targets is through energy efficiency estimated to cost an average of $14 per megawatt hour.


To Conclude


Some states are well on their way to meeting the requirements of the Clean Power Plan and their compliance is a simple matter of continuing to follow and improve upon existing state laws, emission reduction plans and efficiency targets. Other states, however, are coming face to face with tough decisions in order to meet CPP goals. Short-sighted lawmakers in the 29 states seeking to block the plan are seemingly unwilling to weigh the cost benefits of its success. As scientist Alan Lockwood covered in this Atlantic piece, “the overwhelming benefits obtained from compliance with the [Clean Air Act] far outweighed the costs of implementation.” In fact, the Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that by 2030, the United States will have saved between $26 billion and $45 billion, with health benefits accounting for $12-$34 billion of that. In his unveiling of the plan, Obama cited the fact that after just one year of the CPP regulations being in effect, up to 100,000 asthma attacks and 2,100 heart attacks may be avoided.