EPA rules look to change how the US generates electricity

October 2, 2015 By    

epa-logoPresident Obama has made reducing greenhouse gases a priority during both of his presidential campaigns, in his addresses to Congress and in his major policy speeches.

During his time in office, he has implemented new rules for vehicle and fuel economy standards and appliance efficiency standards as examples of his efforts to combat global warming. His administration has considered forms of a carbon tax, and carbon capture and trade, both of which were legislative non-starters in Congress.

A couple of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rulings this summer focused on reducing greenhouse gases.

One, called the Clean Power Plan, is the first national standard to limit carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. Aimed at the electricity sector, this plan puts the responsibility on the states to reduce carbon pollution from power plants by 32 percent below their 2005 levels by the year 2030.

The plan allows states flexibility on how they meet the standard. There is also a potential opt-out in the case of a significant disruption to the power grid. If states do not comply, they will be made to follow a federal plan.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has been leading the charge against these efforts, calling the plan a “war on coal.” McConnell has been urging states not to comply with the rule.

According to the Energy Information Administration, 39 percent of electricity generated in the United States came from coal in 2014. Additionally, 14 states produce more than 50 percent of their electricity on coal. Regardless of the war rhetoric, a move away from coal is a historic shift in the U.S. and will be challenging.

This shift has been happening for some time. Electric generation from renewable fuels grows each year and technologies for retrieving gas emerge regularly. Our rise in domestic energy production has made the U.S. more independent, and we have become a major exporter of fuel. If the Clean Power Plan is a war on coal, it may be short term as utilities continue to diversify.

Mounting legal challenges against the new standard may slow the compliance process. There will be no shortage of political attacks with the new standard, now that the presidential election season is underway. In the end, appeals to the court of law may fall flat. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that carbon dioxide was a pollutant, and the administration is confident in its power to promulgate this rule under the Clean Air Act.

While many environmental organizations supported the proposed rule to make states move away from carbon-intensive coal-fired plants, they expressed concern with the rush to build natural gas plants to meet the new standard. In the final rule, renewable fuels incentives were included that may allay environmentalists’ fears.

In addition to carbon dioxide, methane gas is another big concern. As a result, the EPA released a second package of proposed rulings this summer to reduce methane emissions and volatile organic compounds from oil and gas production. In 2012, the EPA required shale gas developers to stop flaring gas from their wells. The proposed rules extend requirements to hydraulically fractured oil wells and equipment at compressor stations, transmission facilities and processing plants. Within 10 years, the rules aim to reduce methane emissions by 40 to 45 percent below 2012 levels.

President Obama has made it clear that he plans to follow through on his promise to reduce the greenhouse gases that cause climate change. With Congress unlikely to support his view, the EPA continues to be his primary path to accomplish his goals.

Although the political fight over the administration’s climate change policy continues, we can hope that the innovations, economic growth and U.S. political power fueled by our rise in domestic energy production doesn’t falter. This may be what ultimately helps drive a cleaner environment that does not diminish our economic future.


Lisa Bontempo was a longtime energy lobbyist, including 13 years with the National Propane Gas Association. She remains involved in national politics and can be reached via email at lisabontempo@msn.com.

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Allison Kral was a senior digital media manager at LP Gas magazine.

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