Electric utilities, environmental advocates and a nonpartisan climate think tank all agree that they dislike the way U.S. EPA sets interim goals for states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a draft rule for the power sector. But in comments due yesterday, they diverged widely on how to make that portion of the proposal more workable.

The interim targets, or "glide path" requirements, are an issue EPA will need to address in its final rule after hearing complaints from across the electric industry (ClimateWire, Dec. 1).

As the draft rule stands, EPA asks states to achieve a specific average reduction in their emissions rate for the years 2020 through 2029.

The Edison Electric Institute (EEI) wants to scratch the interim goals completely, arguing that the rule is front-loaded and would force some states to come up with 50 to 75 percent of their reductions as early as 2020.

The association, representing the nation's investor-owned utilities, said states would need more than the few years before 2020 to build the necessary natural gas pipelines and to resolve issues with gas-electric coordination, including differences in regulatory schemes, operational requirements and processes for building infrastructure.

EEI said eliminating the interim goals is among the most important issues to its member companies. "There's no smooth glide path here," said EEI Vice President of Environment Quin Shea. "There's no smooth transition from 2015 to 2030."

The Natural Resources Defense Council, on the other hand, wants the interim requirements strengthened. NRDC wants to divide the goals into smaller five-year segments to ensure states are continually making progress.

"You always hear a lot of hype about the timetable of EPA regulations, and we think that the timetable is already generous in that compliance is, with the first target in 2020, still more than five years away," said David Doniger, policy director for NRDC's climate and clean air program.

Cutting out the glide path requirements entirely might lead states to stall while they challenge the rule in the courts, critics of EEI's stance worry.

EPA may take a 'closer look'
"Compliance in 2030 [would be] very difficult or impossible if planning isn't done up front," said David Littell, a public utilities commissioner in Maine who signed onto comments supporting the rule with authorities from 13 other states coordinated by the Georgetown Climate Center.

EPA has been listening to concerns about the interim goals since releasing the proposal in June and has since asked for feedback on alternatives, including allowing credit for earlier reductions and phasing in the first two building blocks of the rule's compliance options: improving coal plant efficiency and ramping up natural gas.

Many states agree that it would be more difficult to comply with the interim timeline than with the rule's final goals.

Bob Perciasepe, the former deputy administrator of the EPA who stepped down this summer to be president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES), thinks the federal agency will re-examine the glide path. C2ES has suggested that EPA should "soften" the interim requirements without reducing the overall carbon emissions reductions.

"I think we'll see EPA take a closer look at its interim targets, to make sure it's not encouraging quick fixes, like switching from coal to natural gas, at the expense of longer-term planning and investment in zero-carbon generation," said Perciasepe. "We want states to have the flexibility to make the right decisions."

In the comments organized by the Georgetown Climate Center, the nine states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, as well as California, Illinois, Minnesota, Oregon and Washington, recommended keeping the two-part structure to the rule but making some changes.

Early actors versus coal states
They want EPA to credit states for certain reductions achieved between 2014 and 2020 and to begin the compliance period before 2020 so the average is stretched across more years. That would be good for early actors, giving them more credit for the progress they've already made, but it might draw ire from coal-reliant states.

Kentucky, one of the states expected to push back hardest against the proposal, wants the interim period eliminated outright. Comments from the state's Energy and Environment Cabinet note that ratepayers in the state would be stuck with a $4.5 billion bill for coal plants that were retrofitted to comply with EPA's Mercury and Air Toxics Standards if they are not allowed to operate.

"Several utility stakeholders have stated that the interim period forces an impending 'compliance cliff' beginning in 2020 that does not consider potential stranded assets and does not afford them the requisite time to prepare for compliance by properly going through their integrated planning process," Kentucky's comments said in a section labeled "Unintended Consequences."

EEI is also asking for confirmation that closures under the MATS rule will also count toward compliance with the Clean Power Plan. But that may depend on whether the shutdowns occurred before EPA's starting point.

At the end of the day, Shea said, what states and affected industries need is a "predictable glide path that provides business certainty in terms of impacts to our customers."

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500