EPA Releases Details of the Affordable Clean Energy Rule

Thu Aug 23rd, On Environmental Law, by

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Tuesday released the details of its proposed rule updating the greenhouse gas emission regulations for coal-burning power plants. The proposal, titled the Affordable Clean Energy rule, will replace the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Power Plan.


Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which the EPA under the Trump administration has deemed to be “overly prescriptive and burdensome,” sought to reduce the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent below 2005 levels by setting national targets for cutting emissions and encouraging utilities to use electricity generated from cleaner energy sources such as wind and solar. The Affordable Clean Energy rule, on the other hand, relinquishes authority to states to set pollution standards for coal-fired power plants while also allowing them to relax standards for power plants that need upgrades. According to a press release by the EPA, the Affordable Clean Energy Rule seeks to “empower states, promote energy independence, and facilitate economic growth and job creation.”


The Affordable Clean Energy rule consists of three discrete sections. First, the rule establishes the “best system of emission reduction” (BSER) for greenhouse gas emissions as on-site, heat-rate efficiency improvements. While the Clean Power Plan allowed states to meet emission goals by pursuing clean energy sources other than coal, the Affordable Clean Energy Rule seeks to cut emissions by improving the efficiency of coal-fired power plants currently in use. Second, the rule promulgates new implementing regulations to align with section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act. The purpose of this action is to give states adequate time and flexibility to implement their state plans. Third, the rule updates EPA’s New Source Review Permitting program (NSR) so as to allow power plants to adopt efficiency improvements consistent with EPA’s proposed BSER without triggering NSR permit requirements. This action would serve to incentivize coal-burning power plants to make efficiency improvements without having to bear the financial and regulatory burden of a full NSR analysis.


While EPA and the Trump administration praise the Affordable Clean Energy rule as a means to provide “the states and regulated community the certainty they need to continue environmental progress while fulfilling President Trump’s goal of energy dominance”, environmental groups such as the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) argue that these relaxed standards will lead to an increase in national greenhouse gas emissions. In a recent statement, senior strategic director of NRDC’s Climate and Clean Energy Program, David Doniger, argued that “at most, heat-rate improvements can achieve only a several percent reduction in a plant’s CO2 emission rate. At worst, they can lead to higher total emissions, because power plant owners will run a more efficient coal plant more hours each year.”


Furthermore—and quite shockingly—EPA’s own analysis details the numerous benefits to human health and the environment that will be “forgone” by the implementation of the Affordable Clean Energy rule. According to EPA’s own estimates, the new rule will cause between 470 and 1,400 premature deaths annually by 2030 due to increased exposure to harmful airborne pollutants.  The EPA “uses the value of statistical life (VSL) approach in calculating estimates of mortality benefits, because [it] believe[s] this calculation provides the most reasonable single estimate of an individual’s willingness to trade off money for changes in the risk of death.”  Obama’s Clean Power Plan, on the other hand, would have helped prevent between 1,500 and 3,600 premature deaths annually by 2030.


The California Environmental Attorneys at Bick Law LLP will continue to monitor the impacts and implementation of the Affordable Clean Energy rule as it takes effect in California and across the United States.

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