A snapshot of USA’s Clean Power Plan

Earlier in August 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the Clean Power Plan – USA’s most ambitious policy to combat climate change. In February 2016, USA’s Supreme Court stayed the implementation of the Clean Power Plan, pending further judicial review of its legal merits.

Here are some details about the Clean Power Plan that are important to know:

The Clean Power Plan (CPP) proposed by the EPA under the Obama Administration is the first policy to put a limit on the carbon emission pollution from power plants, across USA. Conventional fossil fuel power plants are the largest source of US CO2 emissions accounting for 31% of US greenhouse gases, and the CPP aims to reduce CO2 pollution from power plants by 32% (relative to 2005 levels) till 2030 that would be equivalent to 870 million tons of less CO2 or annual emissions of 166 million cars (70% of USA’s passenger vehicles). Here’s a video by President Obama on the Clean Power Plan

The CPP would achieve this by setting emission standards (first of its kind) for power plants across the country and get goals for various states to curb their carbon pollution. The policy required states to submit emission reduction plans by September 2016, wherein the plans could deploy a combination of the following three approaches – improve generation of existing conventional fossil power plants, use less polluting natural gas for coal-based power plants, and substitute conventional fossil plants with renewable energy plants. As per the Administration, this plan demonstrated USA’s commitment on the international stage to fight climate change and was a key aspect of USA’s position at the Climate Change COP in Paris. States would be required to only submit plans now and make preparations to achieve interim CO2 emission performance targets over 2022 – 2029 and have final emission performance targets by 2030.

Cean Power Plan

Source- (Cleantechnica;optimist.com)

The EPA states that the developed CPP is hinged on unprecedented scientific research and public engagement with states, utilities, and public stakeholders, factoring in more than 4.3 million comments. The implementation of the CPP was pegged to have many more indirect benefits as well

  • By 2030, sulphur dioxide emissions and Nitrogen oxide emissions from power plans would reduce by 90% and 72% respectively (2005 levels). This reduction will reduce the resultant smog and soot to historical low levels, thereby avoiding 3,600 premature deaths, 1,700 heart attacks, and 90,000 asthma attacks.
  • Projected public health and climate benefits are estimated at $34 – 56 billion annually in 2030, as against a cost of $8.4 billion
  • Save American families $85 in energy bills annually in 2030, saving enough energy to power 30 million homes and save consumers $155 billion from 2020 – 2030.

The plan implied significant stringent actions on fossil power plants, and some 27 states with significant fossil fuel investments opposed the plan, arguing that the EPA overstepped its authority in issuing the CPP. The states asked for a judicial stay on implementation of the CPP that was rejected by a lower court court. The states then went to the Supreme Court which determined a stay by a vote of five to four. Because of the stay, states no longer need to meet the September deadline for submitting their plans under the CPP, and the way forward would be known once the entire case is heard. However despite the stay, states such as Colorado, Virginia, Washington, and California pledged to continue implementing the CPP nevertheless. In fact the EPA has offered to continue supporting states volunteering to continue working on their plan in the interim with all the tools and guidance required.

As per the government, USA will still stand by its position at the Paris climate change COP summit and meet its interim emissions reduction targets despite the stay through other means such as increasing energy efficiency and the extended renewable energy tax credits. However there is no doubt that the final verdict on the CPP will have a direct impact on the country’s emission reductions plans and international climate change negotiations.