Proposed rule for EPA’s Clean Power Plan undergoes OMB review

By Erin Voegele | June 03, 2015

On June 1, U.S. EPA’s proposed rule for the Clean Power Plan was delivered to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review, marking a final step before the release of a final rule.

The EPA first announced its proposal for the Clean Power Plan almost exactly one year ago, on June 2, 2014. The rulemaking, formally titled “Carbon Pollution Emissions Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units,” aims to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent in 2030 when compared to 2005 emissions. 

The plan 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.

The proposed rule made several specific references to biomass, indicating that sustainable forestry and agriculture can improve resiliency to climate change, be part of a national strategy to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, and contribute to climate change mitigation by acting as a “sink” for carbon. “The plant growth associated with producing many of the biomass-derived fuels can, to varying degrees for different biomass feedstocks, sequester carbon from the atmosphere. For example, America’s forests currently play a critical role in addressing carbon pollution, removing nearly 12 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions each year. As a result, broadly speaking, burning biomass-derived fuels for energy recovery can yield climate benefits as compared to burning conventional fossil fuels,” said the EPA in the proposed rule. “Many states have recognized the importance of forests and other lands for climate resilience and mitigation and have developed a variety of different sustainable forestry policies, renewable energy incentives and standards and greenhouse gas accounting procedures. Because of the positive attributes of certain biomass-derived fuels, the EPA also recognizes that biomass-derived fuels can play an important role in CO2 emission reduction strategies. We anticipate that states likely will consider biomass-derived fuels in energy production as a way to mitigate the CO2 emissions attributed to the energy sector and include them as part of their plans to meet the emission reduction requirements of this rule and we think it is important to define a clear path for states to do so.”

The proposed rule also references the EPA’s draft accounting framework for biogenic carbon emissions. In the year since the proposed rule for the Clean Power Program was released, the EPA has taken some action on the development of the biogenic carbon emissions framework. In November, the agency released a revised framework for assessing biogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from stationary sources and a memo providing regulatory guidance on how the updated framework will impact the Clean Power Plan and Prevention of Significant Deterioration Program.

Within the memo, Acting Administrator Janet McCabe explained that information considered by the EPA in preparing the second draft of the framework supports the finding that the use of waste-derived feedstocks and certain forest-derived industrial byproducts are likely to have minimal or no net atmospheric contributions of biogenic CO2 emissions. Rather, the use of those materials may even reduce such impacts when compared to the alternate fate of disposal.

In late March, the EPA’s Science Advisory Board Biogenic Carbon Emissions Panel held a public face-to-face meeting to review the updated biogenic framework. A public teleconference of the panel was also scheduled for May.  

The EPA’s Regulatory Development and Retrospective Review Tracker currently estimates the final rule for the Clean Power Plan will be published in the Federal Register in August.