At present, the EPA Clean Power Plan regulation aims at reducing climate emissions from power plants by 25 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, and by 30 percent by 2030. This plan is part of a wider effort by the Obama Administration to cut U.S. fossil fuel emissions.
At the time of the Clean Power Plan’s initial release earlier this year, the U.S. carbon emissions reduction goal was 17 percent below the 2005 baseline by 2020. However, an update was made to this goal with the recently-brokered US-China Climate Agreement.
Updating the Speed of Climate Change Mitigation
The updated national emissions reduction goal is now 26 to 28 percent by 2025. Energy efficiency standards are being updated as well, along with vehicle fuel standards, and other policies are being implemented by the executive branch to facilitate achievement of the new reduction goal.
Speaking recently about the agreement with China, John Podesta, a senior adviser to the White House said it was based on emission reductions implementable under executive branch powers “that exist in current law,” rather than waiting on a “massive new climate reduction program put in place by the Congress.”
According to ThinkProgress.org, an analysis released in October by the Union of Concerned Scientists determined that the EPA’s 30% by 2030 goal for power plant emissions reductions could be increased to 40 percent with negligible impact on the economy.
Strengthening the EPA Clean Power Plan
Strengthening the Clean Power Plan’s intended cuts would offer an immediate boost to climate change mitigation efforts. According to some estimates, the U.S. will need to eliminate an additional 670 million metric tons of carbon emissions from 2013 to 2025, on top of what the EPA Clean Power Plan in its current design will cut.
The senators’ letter to the EPA states, “While the emission reduction goals of the Clean Power Plan are laudable, we believe that with modest changes to reflect real-world market and technological conditions, the plan can, and should, achieve even greater emissions reductions.”
Staying below a 2°C maximum gain of global temperature by 2100, at the current global rates of fossil fuel emission production, will require a total cessation of carbon emissions across the world by 2040. However, slowing down global rates of fossil fuel emissions can also help to extend the 2040 deadline.
“For the Clean Power Plan to be a success,” the letter continues, “it must achieve the level of emissions reductions that the science calls for to avoid the most dangerous impacts of climate change.”
Updating the “Outdated Data”
The eleven senators believe the new EPA regulation must be strengthened to meet this need. Greater reductions in carbon emissions are practical, given the current realities of climate change mitigation efforts. Under the Clean Power Plan, each state is given a reduction target, and a menu of options for achieving this target. The senators recommend expanding that menu of options, as well as modifying how the targets are designed.
Criticizing the EPA for relying on “outdated data,” the senators suggest that this led the EPA to estimate too low the potential of states to deploy renewable energy. Also, the Clean Power Plan does not realistically take into account the speed at which costs of renewable energy sources are decreasing. Additionally, the senators recommend the EPA use a different modeling approach to calculate states’ potential.
The letter points out that states are interdependent upon each other, because most of the national electric grid systems cover multiple states. This point needs to be factored in by the EPA when determining states’ mix of fossil fuels and renewables in energy production and consumption.
Distributed renewable power generation is likewise suggested by the senators as a component that states can use to meet their emissions reduction targets. Finally, further recommendations by the senators include expanding the menu of energy efficiency measures that states can adopt to gain credit under the plan.
The letter is signed by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Corey Booker (D-NJ), Ed Markey (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).
Now that the period for public comments has concluded, the EPA is expected to release a finalized Clean Power Plan midway through 2015.
View the senators’ complete letter to the EPA here: