Association weighs in on EPA proposal to replace Clean Power Plan

Commenting on the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to replace the Clean Power Plan (CPP), the American Public Power Association on Oct. 31 said that it supports EPA’s proposal to establish heat rate improvement technologies as the best system of emission reductions for coal-fired utility boilers, the revision of certain Clean Air Act’s section 111(d) implementing regulations, and supports the role states have in setting units specific performance standards.

The Environmental Protection Agency in August proposed to replace the CPP with a new rule – the Affordable Clean Energy Rule (ACE Rule) -- that would let states decide how to make existing coal-fired power plants more efficient to lower their greenhouse gas emissions.

In its comments submitted to the EPA on the ACE Rule, the Association noted that the electric utility sector, including public power, continues to make great strides in reducing CO2 emissions. The Energy Information Administration notes that U.S. electric power sector carbon dioxide emissions have declined 28% since 2005 because of slower electricity demand growth and changes in the mix of fuels used to generate electricity. EIA has calculated that CO2 emissions from the electric power sector totaled 1,744 million metric tons in 2017, the lowest level since 1987.

“This decrease in CO2 emissions is due in part to public power utilities’ investment in low and non-emitting generation technologies, such as solar, wind, hydro, nuclear, and natural gas,” the Association told the EPA.

It pointed out that its members include utilities actively pursuing reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in coordination with local, state, and regional programs targeting standards exceeding federal proposals such as the ACE Rule. 

“Thus, the Association’s comments on the ACE Rule proposal constitute our recommendations for the development of a workable emissions guideline, which will establish procedures to limit CO2 emissions from existing fossil steam electric generating units (EGUs).” 

The Association said that it supports EPA’s decision to propose new emission guidelines for GHG emissions from existing EGUs that adhere to the statutory requirements of CAA section 111(d), “thus providing much-needed regulatory certainty for the electric generating sector.”

The Association said that the ACE Rule properly reflects the scope and bounds of the Clean Air Act by identifying the best system of emission reduction (BSER) for coal-fired utility boilers based on measures that can be applied to or at an individual source and acknowledges states’ authority to submit their own plans establishing achievable standards of performance for each source while accounting for unit-specific parameters, the Association said.

In addition, the ACE Rule appropriately focuses the implementation of heat rate improvements (HRIs) as BSER for existing coal-fired utility boilers, the trade group said. “These HRI measures are adequately demonstrated to reduce CO2 emission rates , and emission standards based on improving or maintain a unit’s efficiency will provide meaningful limits on facilities’ emissions,” the Association said.

Meanwhile, the Association said that it supports the EPA’s proposal to revise certain requirements of the CAA’s section 111(d) implementing regulations.

“The proposed changes will facilitate implementation of the ACE Rule by more closely align EPA’s section 111(d) implementing regulations with the statute and by removing barriers to implementation of heat rate improvement projects,” the trade group said in its comments.

The role of the states

The Association said it appreciates that EPA’s proposal recognizes the primary role of states in establishing achievable standards of performance for existing sources within their boundaries, including states’ discretion to vary the requirements for individual sources based on remaining useful life and other factors. 

But the Association believes that implementation of the proposed rule would be aided by further guidance from EPA to states as to what EPA would or would not consider to be aspects of a “satisfactory” state plan. 

“The proposal’s regulatory language on required state plan elements provides a helpful general framework for states, but it leaves significant uncertainty as to what exactly is required for a state plan to be approvable,” the Association added.

“EPA can provide further direction to states for plan development without disrupting the CAA’s assignment of standard-setting responsibility under section 111(d).”

As an example, the Association said that the EPA could provide a non-exclusive description of state plan approaches on certain issues that EPA would consider satisfactory if they were submitted. “This type of guidance would not necessarily constrain states’ discretion or disrupt the balance of federal and state roles under section 111(d) so long as EPA is clear that it is not foreclosing states from pursuing other approaches that they can demonstrate are also satisfactory. Including guidance on additional issues in EPA’s guideline document will provide regulated industry with greater regulatory certainty and will ease the states’ administrative burden.”

The Association said that EPA should provide guidance to the states in several areas.

For example, the Association said that the federal agency should also provide further guidance on how states are to determine which candidate technologies apply to individual steam generating units and how implementation of selected technologies should impact a unit’s standard of performance.

The EPA should also require states to consider the costs and benefits of implementing each technology at a unit when determining whether it is “applicable” and eliminate any measures that are unreasonably costly or not cost-effective, the trade group went on to say.

Association supports proposal to revise certain requirements of NSR program

The Association also said in its comments that it supports the EPA’s proposal to revise certain requirements of the CAA’s New Source Review (NSR) program. 

“The NSR program, as implemented by EPA’s enforcement arm, has long been a source of regulatory uncertainty in the industry and has prevented the implementation of projects that could improve reliability, safety, and efficiency,” the Association said.

For that reason, the Association said it supports EPA’s proposal to adopt an hourly emission increase test for what is a “modification” under the NSR program, independent of any action EPA may take with respect to adopting emission guidelines for existing EGUs.