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Next Monday, June 2, the Obama administration (perhaps the president personally) will announce an Environmental Protection Agency rule governing carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. A rule on new plants was announced in September. By various accounts, the new rule would grant flexibility to the states, allowing them to employ cap-and-trade systems and expand renewable energy sources of electricity as a means of complying with emissions limits.

Obama has said he wants the existing plant rule in place by the time a new president takes the oath of office in January 2017. After the rule is announced Monday, a one-year comment and review period will begin, after which, perhaps with tweaks, the rule will be implemented. Given the gravity of the climate change situation, that 2017 date might seem to be an unneeded delay. But, actually, given the opposition, it's optimistic.

Both emissions rules have been in the works since the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 2007 that the EPA has a mandate to control greenhouse emissions, including CO2, under the Clean Air Act. In short, the Court ruled that controlling CO2 emissions isn't optional. The act requires action.

But even after the Court's decision, climate change-denying professionals, the fossil fuel industry and its marionettes in Congress have sought to keep either emissions rule from being implemented.

Just two weeks ago, in fact, seven Democrats—U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Warner of Virginia—sent a letter to Obama noting their “deep concerns” with the new-plant rule, technically the New Source Performance Standards for carbon dioxide emissions. They want implementation of the rule delayed and an alternative developed that doesn't set the same standards for generating plants fired by coal and natural gas.

But limiting emissions, and thus adding obstacles to the building of new coal-fired plants, is one thing. Imposing CO2 emissions limits on existing plants is a much bigger deal. Investors aren't keen on new coal plants anyway, particularly because turbines powered by cheap natural gas have made new coal operations uneconomic.

Below the fold is more analysis on the existing plant rule.

Controversial as the new plant rule has been, the existing plant rule is certain to run into far more opposition. As Ben Adler at Grist has noted, "June 2 won’t be the end of the fight, but just the beginning."

Among the other foes of the emissions rules has been the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), funded in part by fossil fuel giants like Koch Industries and Peabody Energy. Suzanne Goldenberg at The Guardian reported early this month that ALEC had launched a new attack on the emissions rules, focusing particularly on getting states' attorneys general to file lawsuits before the rules come into effect instead of waiting until implementation.

The new plant rule requires both natural gas and coal plants to meet the same standards. Neither can emit more than 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour of electricity it generates. That is something natural gas plants can do with room to spare. But the best new coal plants emit 1,800 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour.

While we don't know exactly what the EPA rule on existing plants will mandate, we do know the agency has been working hard to put together a rule that will be "legally sound," as EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy labels it. And we know that, unlike the new plant rule, the existing plant rule will not likely set standards on a plant-by-plant basis. Adler writes:

The agency’s proposed rules will probably roughly follow the model proposed by the Natural Resources Defense Council in a March 2013 report. That approach is to set different limits for each state on the amount of CO2 generated per megawatt-hour by the state’s entire utility fleet—so it’s not each individual plant that matters, but the average across the state. Each state’s goal would be set according to its current electricity mix, so states that currently depend more on coal would start with a higher allowance, but would have to improve more over time. Each state’s limit would also be calculated to allow for economic and population growth. NRDC projects that its method would cut 35 to 40 percent of the CO2 emissions from the electricity-generation sector over 2012 levels by 2025.
Once the announcement is made, there will be a 60-day public comment period followed by EPA review. Many in Congress, including some of those seven Democratic senators who don't like the new plant rule, are asking for 120 days, and it seems fairly likely that the public comment period will be extended.

One key concern sure to be addressed in those comments and public pressure on the agency will be the deadline for compliance. Expect a battle between industry and environmental advocates over how quickly states will be required to meet their emissions limits. Except for deniers, the quicker the better is the right answer.

But, from the beginning, McCarthy has shown she wants to cooperate with industry. Speaking to the Association of Climate Change Officers Climate Strategies Forum and later the Steel Manufacturers Association May 13:

“We are at a moment in time when people are demanding of us not just to protect the environment, but to grow the economy,” McCarthy said. “We need to meet those demands. And we need every step we take to be thought of in the most commonsense way.” [...]

McCarthy said that, while she does not believe the greenhouse gas emissions proposal will affect the reliability of the nation's electricity grid, businesses that rely on electricity should view the comment period on the proposal as an opportunity for their “voice to be heard” by the agency.

“I want companies to speak up,” she said. “So if you see something in that rule you don't like, let me know.”

It's not as if America's corporations have ever been silent or uninfluential in such matters.

The timing of the rule's announcement presents some potential problems for the Democratic Party on the cusp of midterm elections. Jonathan Chait wrote :

Here is where the politics of climate change stand at the outset of Obama’s new climate offensive. The scientific consensus is stronger and more urgent than ever, while the political consensus is weaker than ever. Republicans are not even considering the notion of asking Americans to spend money to mitigate climate change, and are increasingly uncertain about the notion of even saving money to mitigate climate change. And into this simmering pot of reflexive opposition and anti-empiricism Obama will plop a highly ambitious and not very cuddly scheme to clean up the power-plant sector. It has already drawn strong opposition from the major business lobbies. It is likely to become the major point of conflagration of Obama’s second term.

As recently as a few months ago, it was preposterous to imagine that the midterm elections would revolve around anything but Obamacare. But the law, which last fall lay ailing while conservatives spoke openly about pulling the plug, has, to their dismay, bounded out of bed. Obama’s new [CO2] regulations can fill that vacuum once occupied by health care. As right-wing hate fodder, it may even exceed it.

Indeed. Opposition to this signature element of the president's new aggressiveness on climate action can be expected to be ferocious and long-winded. Some people just don't get the grave need for CO2 emissions controls. Or, they do get it, but not enough to cause them to do anything that might nick their campaign contributions or profit margins.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Tue May 27, 2014 at 01:05 PM PDT.

Also republished by Climate Change SOS and Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  suasion proceeds (9+ / 0-)
    But limiting emissions, and thus adding obstacles to the building of new coal-fired plants, is one thing. Imposing CO2 emissions limits on existing plants is a much bigger deal. Investors aren't keen on new coal plants anyway, particularly because turbines powered by cheap natural gas have made new coal operations uneconomic.

    Warning - some snark may be above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ eState4Column5©2013 "If we appear to seek the unattainable, then let it be known that we do so to avoid the unimaginable." (@eState4Column5)

    by annieli on Tue May 27, 2014 at 01:10:21 PM PDT

  •  glad Pres. Obama is moving forward (19+ / 0-)

    once promulgated, deniers will have to hit all the states to try to obstruct as each state will be given a GHG emissions reduction target and decide how to comply with that target. and that means states will have to use renewable energy and maybe also cap and trade.

    deniers will make it messy with lawsuits and political obstructions and more lies, but at least we're moving forward.

  •  Chapter 1 (12+ / 0-)

    This is the beginning of a very long road.  Here are the timelines:

    1)  60 day comment period - will be extended to 120 days, one way or another - even if by a supplemental Federal Register notice
    2)  EPA MUST finalize within one year.  Section 111 rules, even those for existing sources, must go final within one year.
    3)  Everyone (industry, trades, NGOs, etc.) WILL sue in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.  This will be litigated - but stays during litigation are RARE in Clean Air Act cases.
    4)  Whoever loses at the Court of Appeals WILL appeal to the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court takes a lot of Clean Air Act cases, so the chances are good that the Court will certify the case.  SCOTUS rarely stays final CAA regulations - though the electric generating unit (EGU) institute, probably through the Edison Institute or the Utility Air Regulatory Group (UARG) will ask for a stay.
    5)  SCOTUS answers the question - but will be stuck substantially deferring to EPA under Chevron.  As long as EPA has a rational basis for the rule under its existing authority, it should be fine.  HOWEVER, the case SCOTUS is deciding in June will have a lot to do with how it may rule on this case.  
    6)  Industry will comply, and complain the whole way to the bank.  They WILL find a way, which is what EPA and Congress thought would happen.  

  •  Another great post Meteor Blades! (9+ / 0-)

    It is a sad commentary on our society that we stand so deep in the muck of climate change and the political will is still against such measures.

    I'm glad to see some action, though.  And hope it won't simply implode as a huge litigious disaster.

    Understanding is limited by perspective. Perspective is limited by experience. America is a great place to live but it limits our ability to understand.

    by CindyV on Tue May 27, 2014 at 01:57:20 PM PDT

  •  And Please Check Out (10+ / 0-)

    "If Wall Street paid a tax on every “game” they run, we would get enough revenue to run the government on." ~ Will Rogers

    by Lefty Coaster on Tue May 27, 2014 at 02:02:49 PM PDT

  •  A Swiss Cheese Regulation (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    The Jester, TJ

    that won't even go into effect until Obama is off happily collecting his well-earned corporate rewards.

    This is Obama's climate legacy: Record-high worldwide carbon emissions, thousands of miles of new fossil fuel pipelines, drill-baby-drill now a bipartisan position, the international scourge of fracking unleashed, not even the glimmer of an international agreement, the U.S. turned into a petro-nation... all this while climate change is already wreaking havoc in in its nascent stage.

    I wish I could say that Obama merely wasted 8 precious years. But it is much worse than that.

    •  Yes. This is all Obama's fault. Nobody else's. (7+ / 0-)

      Seems to me that believing that Obama could have changed the course of this country to the point where we'd be carbon neutral by now (or on our way towards taking more carbon from the atmosphere than we're putting into it) is entirely unrealistic.  Could he have done more?  I believe the answer is "yes" - especially with Keystone XL.  However, I don't believe he or anyone else could have done much better because there are strong wealthy forces arrayed against him to keep the carbon-based systems going as well as to prevent a Democratic (and/or black) man from achieving anything that would be positive for the country.  

    •  Think maybe you are thinking unrealistic (0+ / 0-)
    •  It is indeed fortunate that this turns out (0+ / 0-)

      not to bet the case.

      We doubled our renewable energy resources in the last ten years, under both Bush and Obama. We are at Grid Parity, where renewables have begun to cost less than fossil carbon in many parts of the US and many other parts of the world. Golgman Sachs has been telling anybody who will listen not to invest in coal-fired power plants, because they cannot make money over their design lifetimes. Coal, oil, and even gas resources are going to become stranded assets, with no way to sell most of them. We will be down to little more than coal for making steel, and oil and gas for petrochemicals.

      The technologies and markets have spoken, and will continue to do so louder and louder. None of the Republican obstructionism can do any more than delay a few projects here and there. We are building fewer coal-fired power plants than we are retiring, and this can only accelerate, particularly when the new EPA rules actually come into effect. We will retire the oldest, least efficient, and most polluting first.

      Back off, man. I'm a logician.—GOPBusters™

      by Mokurai on Tue May 27, 2014 at 09:59:09 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  The coal puppet Senators should insist... (10+ / 0-)

    that the EPA level the playing field by taking into account life cycle emissions of methane (CH4) from natural gas use in power plants. Methane, a MUCH more potent GHG than CO2, is emitted mostly from natural gas extraction, especially  fracking, rather than at the plant where it is burned.  Recent studies show that EPA has been grossly underestimating actual CH4 emissions.

    A best case scenario would be an echo of the Dixiecrats tacking on sex discrimination to civil rights legislation in an attempt to kill it, ending up making anti-discrimination broader.  

    I'm not holding my breath of course, but am continuing to speak out against fracking, oil trains, tar sands and coal, and for solar, wind and efficiency.

    Everyone who can get to NYC Sep. 20-21  should join the mobilization called by Bill McKibben et al to demand that the world "leaders" gathering for Ban Ki-moon's Climate Summit actually lead, to deal with the world's greatest challenge:

    There's no such thing as a free market!

    by Albanius on Tue May 27, 2014 at 02:27:31 PM PDT

    •  Yep. It's the leaking, unburned methane that's... (5+ / 0-)

      ...the big problem.

      Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

      by Meteor Blades on Tue May 27, 2014 at 03:12:01 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It's a complex problem, CH4 (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        LinSea, O112358, Dallasdoc

        Right now it pales in comparison with direct CO2 emissions, even accounting for it's greater greenhouse effect, which is complex. Some of the best wellheads are emiiting close to zero CH4 as they prep the well, by capturing CH4. Incidental CH4 release has significantly decreased, to the point that livestock is now the number one generator of methane. Between its poor conversion efficiency and CH4 release we really need to rethink widespread raising of beef.

        Methane GHG effect is much more complex than CO2. It has a half life of some 7.5 years, but an instaneous effect of more than 100 times CO2. It's more like an accellerant, it will have a short term effect, but the final outcome for the planet will be determined by CO2 concentration. This is the reason that when CH4 is mentioned the term "over a 100 year period" or similar is used.

        I'm of the opinion that NG especially in CCGT use is a big win as a transition strategy. It emits 1/2 of the CO2 of coal for energy input, and is about 50% more efficient, in terms of converting thermal energy to electricity.

        •  Methane from ruminants (0+ / 0-)

          is a greatly exaggerated Republican talking point going back to Ronald Reagan. See Emissions accounting of methane.

          Ruminants account for about a fifth of methane emissions. Wetlands emissions, including rice growing, amount to nearly twice that.

          Methane in the atmosphere declined from 2000 to 2006. What it is doing now, I do not know.

          Back off, man. I'm a logician.—GOPBusters™

          by Mokurai on Tue May 27, 2014 at 10:12:52 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Methane is 9% of the problem, CO2 is 82% (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        O112358, Dallasdoc
    •  Moderate fan on fracking here. (0+ / 0-)

      Id love some kind of regulation here that was a tax/cap in trade system where all emissions were converted to some kind of carbon equivalent, that includes methane and other emissions.

      Any time you step on one bug at a time, the others will just fill the void, a blanket solution is the only viable one longer term.

  •  Thanks Meteor. An aside, if I hear Schweitzer (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TomFromNJ, Fiona West

    say natural gas, or gasify or anything else stupid on TV one more time I'm gonna POP!

    Wholly fuck what an idiot. Chemistry and Physics are an actual thing.

    Whether you burn COAL or Methane, for the same amount of ENERGY RELEASED to do work (usually heating water to make steam to turn generators) you will be producing the EXACT SAME CO2 output. Coal has a higher DENSITY of energy in more complex hydrocarbons and because it is a solid, while Methane aka "natural gas" is a gas 1/22 the density at a minimum.

    There is NO magical mystery that burning Methane will produce LESS carbon in the atmosphere than coal. There are marginal differences in the efficiency and waste/lack of between burning the two forms, but those are marginal differences.

    It is utterly disingenuous of Schweitzer and his types to be misleading the public. Burning ANY of this stuff and releasing the CO2 to the atmosphere is the problem, none of this shit is "CLEAN" because the definition for this discussions sake is, CO2 production.

    Now burning coal can and does allow other things, like mercury get into the air too. For the life of me when we required removing Sulfur Dioxide from coal exhaust how did we not ALSO require removing mercury? That is itself a serious case of political malfeasance.

    The President and EPA need to mandate CO2 as a pollutant and set allowable levels for release, on a sliding scale to rapidly reach ZERO as soon as technologically possible, regardless of WHAT it is we are burning i the power plants.

    As for incentives for Solar and Wind, that I don't think he has any unilateral executive branch methods of mandating, but try.

    If Zee Germans can do it, we certainly can.

  •  as Warming gets worse and the hoped for actions (0+ / 0-)

    diffused and debated endlessly and parsed and compromised to our deaths we will see the rationale for the seemingly puzzling growth of the world's police least some of the industry leaders were thinking in advance...'um, we're gonna need lots more cops and military when the people finally wake up and realize they have been bought, sold, and sacrificed.'.....after all, they have investors to protect, and they also have to by law make profits for's The Law. We are told.

    This machine kills Fascists.

    by KenBee on Tue May 27, 2014 at 03:36:51 PM PDT

  •  Thanks for doing this. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Humor Alert! No statement from this UID is intended to be true, including this one. Comments and Posts intended for recreational purposes only. Unauthorized interpretations may lead to unexpected results. This waiver void where prohibited.

    by HoundDog on Tue May 27, 2014 at 03:59:10 PM PDT

  •  Cap n trade or a carbon fee (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I forgot the exact result of the analysis. But I remember a few years ago in an energy economics class that an interesting professor did an analysis on which would theoretically product the best result.

    The short story was that the best solution depended on which you could predict more accurately, the negative consequences of emissions, or  the loss in production surplus due from over taxation.

    I would love for the first time in my memory for our national policies to be dictated by a sound quantitative model.

    •  Carbon tax is better, but the politics of getting. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      willyr imposed in 50 states is gargantuan.

      Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

      by Meteor Blades on Tue May 27, 2014 at 04:15:44 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Perhaps but the U.S. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        does own a very large % of its oil/ng reserves.

        Existing leasing agreements may be past fixing.

        But it should not be too hard to add alterations to future leasing contracts to account these problems.

        Honestly I have been rather surprised my whole life at the very low prices the U.S. sells our oil at.

    •  It no longer matters (0+ / 0-)

      We are getting source rules that will simply mandate closing plants at a certain point, starting mostly with the oldest, least efficient, and most polluting plants, and working our way up from there.

      Back off, man. I'm a logician.—GOPBusters™

      by Mokurai on Tue May 27, 2014 at 10:22:18 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  This is such a key fight. How much will we limit (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Meteor Blades

    CO2 from existing plants, and how fast?  How far will the original EPA proposals go, and how much will industry be able to undermine them?  There's an almost exhilarating sense of coming to a key point of conflict that it's taken way too long to get to.  BUt it's scary as the devil too, because its the beginning of really testing the will of the administration and the will of the country, the level of willingness to face the difficulties and changes that dealing with climate change is going to take.  How ready is the general population to actually insist on, and pay the price for, change?

    The Bill McKibben march in New York in September is going to become one very important "public comment" and measure of where the country stands.  We need a massive turnout to let the political class know that the times they are a -changin', people are waking up, and kowtowing to the petroleum industries is not going to remaiin a good career move for much longer.

    It's going to be a hell of a fight; and we better channel some of that energy into getting good turnout for the midterms, so that Obama can get some climate change legislation passed in these last two years.  We need ithat progress desperately.

    --------------------- “These are troubling times. Corporation are treated like people. People are treated like things. …And if we ever needed to vote, we sure do need to vote now.” -- Rev. Dr. William J. Barber

    by Fiona West on Tue May 27, 2014 at 04:39:58 PM PDT

  •  Coal Plants (0+ / 0-)

    If the rules are enough to get a good number of coal plants to shut down we had better brace for impact because people's heating/electric bills are going to increase.

    Switching over to NG is great, but it is going to increase the price on it as it is used more and more. We have alot of it, but there are also plans for it to be exported in the near future so you can see a scenario in which demand increases significantly and the price goes up alot.

    People are going to be pissed when their bills go up, and they will go up.

    As long as China and India are allowed to spew as much carbon as they want into the air it is going to be near impossible to rally this country behind anything that means higher prices that doesn't do anything to solve the problem.

    If everyone was playing by the same rules you might have a chance of getting the public to come around. Until then it has the feel of cutting off your nose to spite your face in the minds of many in this country.

    If Obama's EPA makes any kind of tangible change Democrats will politically own the fallout whether it's fair or not.

    It's going to be like Obamacare where rates will go up and companies will blame it on the EPA whether it is justified or not, and it is going to be a nightmare.

    The important thing is to be prepared and not get caught flat footed when it happens.

    •  Not so simple (0+ / 0-)

      Not all coal generation will switch to natural gas.  Much of the capacity will switch to wind, and a little (sadly, too little) to solar.  As wind reaches cost parity with coal, and with natural gas well less expensive than coal, there's no economic case for coal any more.  

      A lot of electric utilities will build gas, especially for peaking units.  Many will build out as much wind as they can, to let the wind turbines generate when wind is available, and gas to pick up the slack if wind is not available.  

      The NSPS will, from what I hear, include a trading scheme to ramp down emissions over time.  EPA has checked with the utilities to try as much as they can to run a controlled phase-down of coal units - not that dis-similar to how they handled HCFCs and CFCs in Part 82 regulations and the related trading schemes.  This might motivate some of the oldest units closed, where the owners can (temporarily) sell credits for a while.  Which will fund solar, wind, tidal, and other projects.  

      If done correctly, this could be really good.  

    •  That depends entirely on whether the rules (0+ / 0-)

      are set to shut down coal-fired plants faster than we can build renewable sources, which we are doing at an accelerating pace, particularly where they are already cheaper than coal, like wind where I am in Indiana. Even though we have to drag our power companies kicking and screaming into increasing their profits.

      Back off, man. I'm a logician.—GOPBusters™

      by Mokurai on Tue May 27, 2014 at 10:28:02 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Why not just (0+ / 0-)

    Shut them all down?  That's the goal so why dance around the issues and just do it?

    You best believe it does

    by HangsLeft on Tue May 27, 2014 at 05:10:05 PM PDT

    •  Because, at the most recent count, coal... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dallasdoc, lehman scott

      ...was generating 39% of our electricity and natural gas 23% of it. Shutting them all down at once means 62% of our electricity disappears over night.

      Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

      by Meteor Blades on Tue May 27, 2014 at 06:21:14 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  That's just silly (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      lehman scott

      What are you going to replace them with? As we figure out how to build out renewables cheaper and faster, we can talk about shutting down existing fossil carbon plants faster and thus saving the environment and money at the same time.

      Back off, man. I'm a logician.—GOPBusters™

      by Mokurai on Tue May 27, 2014 at 10:29:37 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you so much for your continuing updates (0+ / 0-)

    on these rulemakings, MB.  I really don't know how else i would be able to stay abreast of what's happening without your diligent work.  You keep us current on these rapidly changing events and know how to key in on their most important sub-issues and aspects.  And believe me, I know how much work it is - - i used to do it for a living when i worked in the Environmental and Regulatory Support Group at GM.  Keep up the great work, man, you rock.

    Pessimism of the intellect; optimism of the will. - - Antonio Gramsci

    by lehman scott on Wed May 28, 2014 at 03:57:27 AM PDT

  •  As long as the Koch brothers can afford ... (0+ / 0-)

    ... their own supply of oxygen, they will persist in spreading falsehoods about climate science, and to oppose ANY KIND of environmental legislation.

    Their belief with regard to this subject (or essentially, on ANY subject) can be summed up as follows -

    Anyone who cannot afford to provide THEIR OWN environmental "controls" for the areas that they, personally, occupy, deserve to live in the toxic filth that our plants produce.  And if any of those people should die, it's really no great loss, because they are not billionaires like we are.

    OF COURSE the New Right is wrong - but that doesn't make WRONG the new RIGHT!

    by mstaggerlee on Thu May 29, 2014 at 09:45:41 AM PDT

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