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EPA’s existing power plant proposal — a vision of a clean power future

On 2 June 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its Clean Power Program, the cornerstone of the Obama administration’s Climate Change Action Plan, which was announced last year and promised regulatory controls on greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector. The EPA’s most recent proposal establishes requirements for states to issue ‘standards of performance’ for emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) from existing fossil fuel electrical generating units (EGUs) under the Clean Air Act (CAA) section 111(d). But the broad name the EPA has given to its proposal — Clean Power Program — more accurately reflects the sweeping nature and scope of its efforts to help propel the US power sector forward onto a cleaner, less carbon-intensive path.

The Clean Power Program follows EPA’s proposed New Source Performance Standards for new EGUs under CAA section 111(b) (new unit rule), published in February 2014. But where the new unit rule was clearly intended to drive new plant construction toward coal-fired power with carbon capture and sequestration and natural gas combined cycle generation, the Clean Power Program seeks to promote a wide array of low- or zero-carbon options, including further natural gas despatch, renewable energy, nuclear energy, energy efficiency and demand-side management, and to ensure that these elements are integrated into long-term planning and investment. EPA’s broad reach creates legal vulnerabilities for the proposal, but it also creates opportunities for states and for electricity generators to make greater investments in a clean energy future…

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