EPA provides update on Clean Power Plan rulemaking

By Erin Voegele | January 07, 2015

On Dec. 7, the U.S. EPA held a media call to provide the public with an update of its plans for the Clean Power Plan and carbon pollution standards for new, modified and reconstructed power plants in the new year. During the call, Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation noted the agency aims to finalize its three carbon pollution proposals by mid-summer.

McCabe addressed progress on three different carbon pollution rulemakings during the call: a proposed rule released in January 2014 that covers new power plants, and two rules issued in June 2014 that cover existing power plants (Clean Power Plan) and modified and reconstructed power plants, respectively.

The Clean Power Plan proposed rule, released on June 2, aims to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent in 2030, when compared to 2005 emissions. The proposal will be implemented through a state-federal partnership that is designed to provide each state with flexibility in meeting its specific goal. Under the partnership, states will identify a path forward using either current or new electricity produced and pollution control policies. The proposal provides guidelines for states to develop plans to meet state-specific goals set by EPA. With regard to biomass, the proposal specifically recognized “that biomass-derived fuels can play an important role in CO2 emission reduction strategies.”

A public comment period on the Clean Power Plan closed on Dec. 1. The Biomass Power Association was among the groups that commented on the proposal. 

Within the proposed rule for the Clean Power Plan, the EPA referenced its draft accounting framework for biogenic carbon emissions. At that time, the agency noted the biogenic CO2 accounting framework would be expected to provide important information regarding the scientific basis for assessing biomass-derived fuels and their net atmospheric contribution of CO2 related to their growth, harvest and use. “This information should assist both states and the EPA in assessing the impact of the use of biomass fuels in reaching emission reduction goals in the energy sector under state plans to comply with the requirements in the emission guidelines,” said the EPA in the proposal last June.

The agency has since released a revised framework for assessing biogenic CO2 emissions from stationary sources. That announcement, made in November, included a memo issued by McCabe that provides regulatory guidance on how the updated biogenic emissions framework will impact the Clean Power Plan and the Prevention of Significant Deterioration Program. 

In the memo, McCabe indicated that the EPA anticipates that some states will wish to include the use of biogenic feedstocks in their Clean Power Plan compliance plans. “When considering state compliance plans, the agency expects to recognize the biogenic C02 emissions and climate policy benefits of waste-derived and certain forest-derived industrial byproduct feedstocks, based on the conclusions supported by a variety of technical studies, including the revised framework,” said McCabe in the memo. “In addition, given the importance of sustainable land management in achieving the carbon reduction goals of the President's Climate Action Plan, the EPA expects that states' reliance specifically on sustainably-derived agricultural- and forest-derived feedstocks may also be an approvable element of their compliance plans. This approach is consistent with the EPA's recognition in the proposal that every state has different energy systems and available fuel mixes. Many states already recognize the importance of forests and other lands for climate resilience and mitigation, and have developed a variety of sustainable forestry and land use management policies and programs to address these concerns. Some states also encourage participation in sustainable forest management programs developed by third-party forestry and/or environmental entities.” According the McCabe memo, the EPA will evaluate the biogenic components of proposed state plans as part of the compliance plan review and approval process, and will provide clarification as needed on the basis on which it will make such biomass-related evaluations.

During the Jan. 7 media call, McCabe noted the three carbon pollution rulemakings issued last year generated approximately 4 million public comments. “Over the past month EPA has been working to upload, organize and review the more than 2 million comments we’ve received on the proposed Clean Power Plan and the proposed carbon pollution standards for modified and reconstructed sources,” she said. “We are also continuing to review and consider the roughly 2 million comments we received on the first proposal, the carbon pollution standards for new power plants.” All three rules are expected to be finalized by mid-summer.

McCabe also said the EPA will turn part of its focus towards providing assistance to states as they begin to develop their state plans. “In response to a number of states and other stakeholders that have asked the agency for more information about a model rule and a federal plan, the EPA will be starting a rulemaking process in the coming weeks to develop a rule that would set forth a proposed federal plan and could help states start to think about their own plans,” she said. That rule will be subject to a public comment period.

In addition, McCabe said the EPA is also planning to initiate a required small business regulatory enforcement fairness act panel later this month, and expects to issue a notice requesting panelists within the next couple of weeks.