Controlling Power Plants: The Co-Pollutant Implications of EPA's Clean Air Act § 111(d) Options for Greenhouse Gases
54 Pages Posted: 17 Jun 2014 Last revised: 2 Aug 2014
Date Written: June 1, 2014
Existing power plants are the nation’s largest single source of carbon emissions. In the absence of comprehensive federal climate change legislation, EPA is forging ahead with power plant controls through § 111(d) of the Clean Air Act. This article focuses on one critical consideration: the ancillary impacts of carbon controls on associated co-pollutants, like sulfur oxides, particulates, nitrogen oxides, and mercury. The article analyzes an array of regulatory options, including options that include both “inside-the-fence” reductions at power plants and “outside-the-fence” measures to reduce power sector emissions, like renewable energy and consumer energy efficiency. The article then evaluates the co-pollutant consequences of these options in terms of several factors: (1) distributional impacts, (2) stringency, (3) transformative potential, (4) capacity to generate real (rather than “paper”) results, and (5) capacity to generate actual reductions from the power sector. Lastly, the framework is used to analyze two specific § 111(d) proposals: a narrow proposal from several states and EPA’s proposed § 111(d) rule, released June 2, 2014.
Although environmental justice concerns have focused on the potential adverse distributional consequences of cap-and-trade programs, the article reveals that distributional outcomes under all of the likely regulatory options are highly uncertain, and that other factors, like stringency, and taking a system-wide approach that fosters stringency, are likely to be the most important factors for maximizing co-pollutant benefits. By adopting a system-wide approach, EPA’s proposed § 111(d) rule takes an essential step toward transformative power sector changes. Still unclear, however, is whether the specific state targets EPA established in its proposal will trigger the degree of change needed to maximize both GHG and co-pollutant reductions.
Keywords: climate change, global warming, Clean Air Act, pollution, environment, Section 111(d), cap-and-trade, environmental justice
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