Group pitches targeting US power plant emissions state by state

WASHINGTON Tue Dec 4, 2012 6:02pm EST

WASHINGTON Dec 4 (Reuters) - The United States could shed more than a third of its carbon pollution by 2025 by giving states the flexibility to use a variety of measures to reduce or offset their emissions rather than setting a uniform national performance standard for existing power plants, an environmental group said.

The Natural Resources Defense Council called on Tuesday for the Environmental Protection Agency to set state-specific emission rates that would take into account their different energy generation mixes. Power plants account for one-third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

The EPA in March used the federal Clean Air Act to issue an emissions performance standard for new power plants that would make it virtually impossible to build new coal-fired facilities.

Although EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has said the agency has no plans to tackle the more controversial challenge of regulating carbon from older plants, it is legally obligated to do so or will face legal challenges under the act.

President Barack Obama said in one of his first post-presidential election speeches that climate change would be back on the national agenda, but he still faces strong resistance to carbon regulations from some members of Congress.

The NRDC said at a press conference on Tuesday that its plan is something the administration could implement "without waiting for Congress."

LEVELING THE PLAYING FIELD

With utilities and lawmakers from some coal-dependent states strongly opposed to any carbon regulation that would put them at a disadvantage, NRDC said it drafted a plan that would give them the flexibility to cut their emissions in a cost-effective way.

"We are overturning the conventional wisdom that reducing carbon pollution through the Clean Air Act would be ineffective and expensive," said Peter Lehner, NRDC's executive director.

The EPA did not return a call seeking comment on the plan.

If the plan were implemented, the U.S. could slash power sector emissions by 25 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 34 percent by 2025 "without imposing excessive burdens on any region," the group said.

It also said complying with the plan would cost $4 billion in 2020 but would be offset by the benefits of avoided illnesses and reduced pollution that could total between $25 billion and $60 billion.

It would also stimulate up to $90 billion in investments in energy efficiency and renewables over the next eight years, according to the NRDC.

The group has proposed the plan to several officials at the EPA so far, and also sought feedback from Virginia-based power company Dominion Resources Inc and Florida-based wholesale power company NextEra Energy Inc.

Under the proposed standard, the EPA would determine each state's energy generation mix during a set period and set them a target fossil-fleet average emission rates.

States, such as those in the southeastern U.S. with more carbon-intensive fleets would have higher target emission rates, but greater differentials between their starting emission rates and their targets, according to the plan.

The proposal would then give facilities covered by the standard a range of options to meet the standard, including trading emissions credits for reduced emissions from fossil fuel plants, shifting to lower-emitting units, and improving energy efficiency.