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The Pathway to a Stronger Clean Power Plan

Andrew Burger headshotWords by Andrew Burger
Leadership & Transparency

This past June, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency introduced its Clean Power Plan – the Obama administration's strongest measure yet to avoid the risks of climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In a report released Oct. 14, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) outlines a practical, effective way to strengthen the Clean Power Plan by delivering much greater cuts in power plants' carbon dioxide and GHG emissions.

Power plants are the largest sources of carbon dioxide and GHG emissions in the U.S., accounting for around one-third of overall GHG and 40 percent of national CO2 emissions. For the first time ever, the proposed Clean Power Plan would require existing U.S. power plant CO2 emissions to be reduced 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

Building on the EPA's flexible, state-by-state approach to implementation, in its report UCS makes the case that much greater cuts in emissions could be realized – “especially by taking greater advantage of cost-effective renewable energy options.” In fact, U.S. states can produce nearly twice as much emissions-free, renewable electricity than the EPA calculates in the Clean Power Plan – and do so in a way that is affordable, UCS asserts.

Renewable energy: The key to a stronger Clean Power Plan

The Clean Power Plan sets out individual power plant emissions reduction goals on a state-by-state basis, by and large leaving it up to state governments to figure out and carry out ways to achieve them. The UCS outline for strengthening the Clean Power Plan and delivering deeper CO2 emissions cuts takes into account the latest market data and actual rates of renewable energy growth, as well as the state-by-state flexibility the EPA has built into the plan.

Following the recommendations outlined in its report, “the EPA could nearly double the amount of cost-effective renewable energy in their state targets – from 12 percent of total 2030 U.S. electric sales to 23 percent,” according to UCS.

“There is an urgent need to reduce heat-trapping gases, and power plants are about forty percent of the problem,” Ken Kimmell, UCS’s president and former head of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, was quoted in a press release.

“Fortunately, renewable electricity has been growing by leaps and bounds for the past five years and costs keep dropping. That’s great news and the agency should take full advantage of what’s been happening on the ground.”

Surprisingly, 17 U.S. states have enacted renewable energy policies that already require installation of more renewable energy generation capacity than the EPA calculates they will produce under the Clean Power Plan, UCS points out. By adopting its recommendations, the EPA could increase the CO2 emissions reductions achieved among existing power plants from 30 percent by 2030 to 40 percent by the same year, UCS highlights.

“The power plant rule is the single biggest thing the administration has done since fuel efficiency standards to reduce the emissions at the root of climate change,” Kimmell said. “The Obama administration wants to get it right and it’s clear they can do a lot more. The draft rule doesn’t fully recognize the remarkable progress states are making on renewables. The agency should feel confident that it can strengthen its requirements, while keeping electricity affordable and reliable, when it releases a final rule next June.”

*Image credits: Union of Concerned Scientists, "Strengthening the EPA's Clean Power Plan"

Andrew Burger headshotAndrew Burger

An experienced, independent journalist, editor and researcher, Andrew has crisscrossed the globe while reporting on sustainability, corporate social responsibility, social and environmental entrepreneurship, renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean technology. He studied geology at CU, Boulder, has an MBA in finance from Pace University, and completed a certificate program in international governance for biodiversity at UN University in Japan.

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