EPA issues proposed rulemaking notice to repeal Clean Power Plan

By Anna Simet | October 10, 2017

U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has officially begun the repeal process for the Clean Power Plan.

The Oct. 10 notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) states that the EPA has proposed to determine that the Obama-era regulation exceeds the agency’s statutory authority, and that repealing the plan “will facilitate development of U.S. energy resources while reducing associated, unnecessary regulatory burdens,” and also align with the principles established in President Trump’s Executive Order on Energy Independence.

The final rules of the CPP were released in August 2015, calling for carbon emission reductions of 30 percent in 2030 when compared to 2005 emissions, and requiring each state to craft its own compliance plan based on policy and resources of its choosing. It also required existing power plants to reduce carbon pollution by an average of 32 percent by 2030.

Since its release, it has been repeatedly challenged and stalled in the courts, by dozens of states and numerous industry groups and energy companies, though leaders in some states, including  California, Minnesota, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Virginia, have moved forward with state implementation plans.  

Following Trump’s election in March, he signed an Executive Order that required an immediate review of the CPP—which was still on hold by the U.S. Supreme Court— and its related rules and agency actions, “and, if appropriate…as soon as practicable, suspend, revise, or rescind the guidance,” and determine whether to revise or withdraw the proposed rule.

“The Obama administration pushed the bounds of their authority so far with the CPP that the Supreme Court issued a historic stay of the rule, preventing its devastating effects to be imposed on the American people while the rule is being challenged in court,” said Pruitt in statements released by the EPA.  “We are committed to righting the wrongs of the Obama administration by cleaning the regulatory slate.  Any replacement rule will be done carefully, properly, and with humility, by listening to all those affected by the rule.”

Pruitt said that the CPP is inconsistent with the Clean Air Act, and that it “ignored states’ concerns and eroded longstanding and important partnerships that are a necessary part of achieving positive environmental outcomes…We can now assess whether further regulatory action is warranted, and if so, what is the most appropriate path forward, consistent with the Clean Air Act and principles of cooperative federalism.”  

EPA has sent the NPRM to the Federal Register for publication, and a 60-day public comment period will follow.

The Trump administration estimates the proposed repeal could provide up to $33 billion in avoided compliance costs in 2030, and details specific areas of controversy and uncertainty in the Obama administration’s analysis of the CPP, including domestic versus global climate benefits, exaggeration of co-benefits from nongreenhouse gas pollutants, and inaccurate energy cost and savings accounting of the total cost of the CPP.

Although the EPA showed positive signs as to biomass’s role in the CPP, its biogenic carbon scientific advisory board, after years of work, has still not come to a conclusion about how biogenic carbon emissions should be treated. Recognizing that uncertainty, biomass industry stakeholders generally received the initial stay of the plan positively, even more so when the 2018 Omnibus spending bill was passed with a policy rider that calls for federal recognition of forest bioenergy carbon neutrality.

Commenting on the NPRM, Bob Cleaves, president of the Biomass Power Association said that “the most important thing the federal government can do is provide clarity, at long last, on the carbon benefits of using organic fuels to generate power.”

“We put power on the grid using low-value organic materials that have little other use, and often need to be disposed of,” Cleaves said. “Biomass power supports foresters and farmers and, by using hazardous fuels, provides a solution for forest management that has not yet been fully realized. These are valuable services that power prices do not cover.” 

American Wood Council President and CEO Robert Glowinski said that despite claims of flexibility, the Clean Power Plan would have actually limited the types of renewable energy states could use, including the wood product industry’s production and use of biomass energy. “Our industry’s products, and the manner in which we produce and use biomass energy, are all part of the sustainable carbon cycle,” he said. “By using biomass residuals as fuel, the wood products industry is harnessing energy that would have been lost to the atmosphere anyway and also displacing the use of more carbon-intensive fuels. AWC urges EPA to take the additional steps to fully recognize biomass energy produced from biomass residuals in the wood products industry is carbon neutral.”

Many elected officials and environmental and health groups, including the Sierra Club, Advanced Energy Economy, Environmental Defense Fund and American Lung Association and have expressed disproval of rolling back the CPP.

California Sen. Diane Feinstein said the decision is “incredibly destructive to a carefully planned program to convert power plants from very dirty power to clean power. One need only look at the devastating wildfires, increasingly destructive storms, an ocean that continues to get warmer and collapsing ice shelves to realize the world has a climate problem.”

She said California is already on track to meet the goals of the CPP, and that regardless of federal action, the state will continue to lead the way. “We have already set a goal of 50 percent clean energy by 2030, and we’ve shown that economic growth is possible while making smart investments in clean energy,” she said.