Clean Power Plan: What Comes Next?

by James A. Bacon

I may be like the proverbial three-year-old playing with matches with this blog post, but as I decipher the Clean Power Plan, Virginia’s final CO2 emission goals should be fairly easy to attain — far easier than anyone was anticipating based upon the draft goals published last year.

According to the EPA’s “State at a Glance” document for Virginia, the Old Dominion can pick from one of two ways to determine its CO2 emission goals — pounds of CO2 emitted per megawatt of electric power generated or total tons of CO2 released by the electric power system. Let’s look at each in turn.

First, pounds of CO2 emissions per megawatt of energy produced:


Virginia is already on track for major CO2 reductions thanks to the retirement of several coal- and oil-fired power plants implemented in response to the EPA’s previous mandated reductions of toxic emissions. As the EPA “State at a Glance” profile of Virginia indicates, the state is projected to cut CO2 emissions from 1,477 pounds in 2012 to 959 pounds per megawatt-hour generated in 2020. That reduction exceeds EPA goals through 2029, and it falls short of the final 2030 goal by only 25 pounds, or 2.6%!

In other words, assuming they stay on their current course, Virginia’s power companies will have another ten years to devise a 2.6% reduction in carbon intensity over what they’re already planning.

Second, total CO2 emissions (in short tons):


These goals would not require Virginia to make any changes at all. Indeed, the final 2030 goal for CO2 emissions is the same as the 2012 level! If Virginia’s power companies hew to current projections, they will exceed the final 2030 goal without any changes! If Virginia adopts this metric, the state won’t have to modify its electricity policy at all. So much for pushing through scads of new solar and wind plants!

I think it’s safe to say that a lot of key players in the Virginia debate got caught flat-footed. An hour after President Obama formally rolled out the plan, General Assembly Republicans issued a statement citing a $6 billion State Corporation Commission cost estimate, based upon the cost of achieving the far tougher draft goals,  in criticism of the plan. Stated House Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford:

The E.P.A. rule released today is not only another example of an overreaching federal government, but more importantly it will drive up energy costs for hardworking Virginians and further damage our already struggling economy.

Oh, really?

Environmentalists seemed to be caught equally off guard. The Southern Environmental Law Center issued a press release just before Obama’s speech praising the plan for forcing CO2 cuts nationally. Senior Attorney Frank Rambo, leader of the organization’s Clean Energy and Air program, released the following statement regarding the regional impact:

The release of the Clean Power Plan today is a milestone event for the country, but for states in the Southeast the real work now begins. We need to make smart choices about how we can meet these targets, which will improve public health by reducing pollution while also providing the opportunity for new jobs through clean energy investments.

Real work? What real work?

Even today, environmentalists had not absorbed the significance of the new target. In a fund-raising letter, the League of Conservation Voters referred to the Clean Air Act as “good news here in Virginia.”

I can’t imagine that Virginia environmentalists will be happy when it sinks in that modified targets lock the status quo into place.

The big question at this point is which metric does Virginia choose? I’m not sure who does the choosing, but I would expect environmental groups to lobby for the “rate” metric, which requires at least modicum of additional tightening for Virginia, and I would expect the McAuliffe administration, which has a stated goal of fighting climate change, to go along because it will cause little economic pain. However, unless closer analysis by the experts finds otherwise — and I’m totally open to the possibility that I may be overlooking something — it appears that Virginia  has enacted nearly all of the changes it needs.

Update: I stand corrected. The final CO2 emission targets represent a 37% reduction for Virginia. For details, see “Yes, Virginia, the EPA Is Still Cracking Down on You.” I also take back the snarky things I said about Bill Howell’s quote and Frank Rambo’s quote. Sorry, guys, I was wrong.

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17 responses to “Clean Power Plan: What Comes Next?

  1. No – you got it. it was knee-jerk all around………

    but they’re catching on……..

    Here’s one 2nd shoe drop – scathing assessment from the left:

    Why President Obama’s Clean Power Plan Is an Exaggeration

    ” While the Clean Power Plan is an important step in federal regulations on climate pollution, it does not reach far enough.

    On its own, the Clean Power Plan is depressingly insufficient and unambitious. And in the light of the Obama administration’s disastrous desire to expand extraction and export of federal coal, oil and gas, it looks even worse.

    President Obama clearly wants to be seen as a climate champion. He even seems to understand the dire timeline for radical action, as he said today “I believe there is such a thing as being too late.” But this tepid EPA rule is one more indication that he may intend to lean more heavily on public relations than meaningful action.”

    all the more reason to ask what in the name of DO DA is Bill Howell doing?

  2. The Old Dominion has got the perfect governor for this job. Hillary and Bill thinks they need him and his state for upcoming elections.

    Imagine where Va. would be on this issue if “the Cooch” Cuchinelli was Governor. This kind of law/rule making by presidential fiat is designed to be a political weapon, hence lawless.

  3. Reed – did you catch this part: ” If Virginia’s power companies hew to current projections, they will exceed the final 2030 goal without any changes! ”

    so what does the Gov have to do? If Cooch were Gov would he then decide he was going to build more coal plans just so he could violate the regs ad not be in conformity?


    Isn’t this a big made up issue? I know that does not “work” for your “all govt is corrupt” narrative but geeze…

  4. No, not at all. The deal offered would be totally different if the Kooch was governor. That is the whole point.

  5. No. This has nothing to do with politics.

    Barack and Hillary would hold a joint news conference at the White House with the Kooch and the White House would issue the same talking points about the looming environmental disaster about to engulf the state of Virginia and tell all the sheep in Virginia how under the President’s leadership the Virginia Repubican governor following the instructions of the President’s EPA was going to save Virginia from an Environmental Armageddon with everyone doing exactly as they were told by the White House so that all in the kingdom would live happily ever after. That is for sure what would happen.

  6. I guess the questions are:

    1. How were the guidelines determined?
    2. Did all (or most) states get off so lightly?

    LarrytheG’s commentary on Bill Howell is humorous. While I am no fan of Howell’s – all he did was make some intemperate comments. Obama, however, is sacrificing the environment he has whined about protecting. He’s done this in either a small way by playing favorites with Virginia or in a big way through systematic incompetence. Either way, that Congressman who called him a liar seems more and more correct with each passing day.

  7. re: ” all he did was make some intemperate comments. ”

    …over the fact that Va basically already meets the standards?


    methinks he doth protest too much!

  8. I am not yet convinced the relaxed CO2 target for Va. is a slam dunk. I need to hear that from Dominion, SCC, the Gov, and GA. Part of the reason the target is so challenging is population growth. Thus the 32% CO2 reduction target is more like 40-50% per capita CO2 reduction from 2005. If that 50% CO2 reduction is really going to happen, it’s hard for me to believe it’s that easy (if so, great).

    EPA is specifically asking for transparency to the public, so Virginia elected officials along with Dominion and our other utilities should take this opportunity to educate the public on how far we’ve come since 2005, and where we have to go, and options. I’d love to have some data like how much power we have in-state vs. imported, etc. Trends etc.

    • I think you’re dreaming if you’re expecting anything positive to come from GOP politicos or the SCC who have made it clear they have every intention to use this issue as a political cudgel… against the EPA and the Administration – no matter what.

      And you can also bet that if any of this was projected without factoring in population growth (or other relevant factors) that the critics would pounce on it to further malign the process.

      I’m not even sure at this point if the SCC was responding to the same proposal that the EPA actually released… it appears they had assumed requirements that were perceived to be more restrictive than what the EPA finally specified..

      it also appears that Howell and company were prepared to blast the proposal anyhow – not matter the specifics..

      I don’t expect the SCC or Howell or the GA to come back with any kind of rational response.. to specifics.

    • PS- Does this relaxed target mean that we can role back Senate Bill 1349 which provided Va. utilities freedom from rate reviews?

  9. U.S. carbon pollution from power plants hits 27-year low


    Electric power plants spewed 141 million tons of carbon dioxide in April, the lowest for any month since April 1988, according to Energy Department figures. The power plants are responsible for about one-third of the country’s heat-trapping emissions.
    April emissions peaked at 192 million tons in 2008 and dropped by 26 percent in seven years.
    Carbon pollution from power plants hit their peak in August 2007 with 273 million tons; summer emissions are higher because air conditioning requires more power.

    In past years, experts said the U.S. reduction in carbon dioxide pollution was more a function of a sluggish economy, but McFarland said that’s no longer the case.

    “You don’t have a 27-year low because of an economic blip,” McFarland said. “There are more things happening than that.”

    Those reductions were calculated before this week’s announcements of new power plant rules. The new rules aim to cut carbon pollution from electricity generators another 20 percent from current levels by 2030.

    The pollution cuts in April are because efficiency has cut electricity demand and energy from non-hydropower renewable sources has more than doubled, said Princeton University professor Michael Oppenheimer.

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