EPA hits the road to seek input on power plant rules

WASHINGTON Wed Oct 23, 2013 6:59am EDT

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WASHINGTON Oct 23 (Reuters) - The U.S. states that already have a plan in place to cut carbon pollution from power plants are likely to make the case to regulators this week that their program offers a viable model for others to follow.

The Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday kicks off an 11-city "listening tour" as part of its effort to craft emissions rules for existing power plants. The tour starts in New York and Atlanta. Meetings will then be held from Boston to Seattle, wrapping up on Nov. 8.

The agency is expected to solicit ideas on how best to regulate carbon emissions from the more than 1,000 power plants now in operation - the cornerstone and arguably the most controversial part of the Obama administration's strategy to address climate change.

The EPA will use a rarely employed section of the federal Clean Air Act, known as section 111(d), and will rely heavily on input from states to craft a flexible rule that can be applied to states with different energy profiles.

President Barack Obama set a June 2014 deadline for the agency to propose its rules, which need to be finalized in June 2015.

REGIONAL INITIATIVE AS ROLE MODEL

Officials from some of the nine northeastern states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) - a carbon trading program targeting power sector emissions - will attend some of the sessions and make the case that the initiative has a "plug and play" option for states to meet future federal rules.

"We want to make the case ... that RGGI is fully compliant with section 111(d)," said Collin O'Mara, secretary of the environment and energy for Delaware.

Separately, representatives of California are expected to ask the EPA to endorse the state's economy-wide, carbon cap-and-trade system as compliant with future regulations.

It is unclear whether the EPA will choose for its rule a "rate-based" approach - a standard for each plants to meet - or a "mass-based approach," which would allow a state to get credit for cutting pollution across a variety of sectors.

Delaware's O'Mara said he wants to make sure that RGGI states are credited for the "mass-based" approach they have taken. For 2010 through 2012, emissions in the states were, on average, more than 30 percent lower than in 2005.

The regional initiative's approach has already drawn interest from a handful of other states that want to join a program that has already been tried and tested.

THREE-MINUTE SEGMENTS

Each person who wants to make comments at the listening sessions will be offered a three-minute slot, said Niloufar Nazmi Glosson, who is coordinating a listening session at the EPA's regional office in San Francisco on Nov. 5.

The sessions are likely to attract speakers ranging from state officials to green groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council to members of the National Association of Manufacturing, which oppose what they call overregulation by the EPA in tackling power plant emissions.

California, which has had a $1 billion carbon market in place since January that targets stationary sources like power plants, will use the listening sessions to tout the benefits of its program.

"We will make the point that we think we have a pretty good model here and we invite them to take a further look at it," said one source in California who is close to the EPA process.

LISTEN AND LEARN

Other states will be in more the listen-and-learn mode, said Jennifer Macedonia, a senior adviser to the Bipartisan Policy Center, a think tank.

Many "will likely try to incorporate the lowest cost reduction measures, provide for a sufficiently long compliance phase-in to allow for a smooth transition, and ensure that the program's requirements won't compromise the availability of affordable and reliable electricity," Macedonia said.

Coal-reliant states such as Kentucky and Pennsylvania are already beginning to weigh options for complying with future EPA carbon-curbing rules.

John Lyons, assistant secretary for climate policy for Kentucky, said this month that it would not make sense for a state like his, which relies on coal for 97 percent of its electricity, to completely shift to cleaner natural gas to meet future EPA standards.

"In the short term we are stuck dealing with the hand we have been dealt," Lyons said, adding that a mass-based approach that encourages plants to become more energy efficient could be an option.

Officials from Pennsylvania are likely to participate in the EPA's listening session slated for Philadelphia on Nov. 8, said a spokesperson for the state's public utility commission.

The commission has already requested a meeting with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to talk about the deactivation of two major coal-fired power plants in the state. Both plants cited future EPA rules as a reason for shutting. (Reporting By Valerie Volcovici; Additional reporting by Rory Carroll in San Francisco; Editing by Ros Krasny and Steve Orlofsky)

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