EPA Clean Power Plan – Existing Power Plant CO2 Emissions

The EPA Clean Power Plan focuses on power plants, our number one source of carbon pollution, accounting for one-third of U.S. domestic greenhouse gas emissions. 1

Carbon Intensity of Electricity Generation Chart by Shrink That Footprint

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued an announcement on June 2, 2014, stating it was releasing its Clean Power Plan for public comment.

Clean Power Plan is a user-friendly name for the EPA’s proposed rule entitled Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units. Essentially, a rule is a regulation.

The main goal of the proposed carbon pollution rule is to cut CO2 emissions from existing fossil fuel burning power plants by making them more efficient, reducing electricity demand, and switching to more low-carbon or zero-carbon energy sources.

In this post, we will explore the proposed carbon pollution rule and its connection to President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and the Clean Air Act.

Proposed Carbon Pollution Rule and President Obama’s Climate Action Plan

On June 25, 2013, a scorching hot day in Washington, D.C., President Obama unveiled his Climate Action Plan during a speech at Georgetown University. The plan concentrates on three main areas:

  • Cut Carbon Pollution in America
  • Prepare the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change
  • Lead International Efforts to Address Global Climate Change

On the same day, the President issued Presidential Memorandum — Power Sector Carbon Pollution Standards, directing the EPA to establish carbon pollution standards for new and existing power plants.

At the time, the EPA had issued vehicle emission standards and was already working on carbon pollution standards for new power plants.

Mountain Top Removal to Extract Coal - Photo Statewide Organization for Community Empowerment
Mountain Top Removal to Extract Coal – Photo SOCM

Proposed Carbon Pollution Rule and the Clean Air Act

The Clean Air Act empowers the EPA to propose, implement, and enforce a wide range of measures and rules to reduce air pollution and protect air quality in the United States.

The EPA derives its authority to issue carbon pollution standards for new and existing power plants under the Clean Air Act.

  • Section 110 requires states to submit plans on how they intend to achieve air quality standards.
  • Section 111 authorizes the EPA to establish regulations for stationary emission sources including buildings, factories, and power plants. It deals specifically with new sources but has a provision for existing sources under Sections 111(b) and 111(d).
  • Section 112 authorizes the EPA to regulate specific hazardous air pollutants.

The EPA plans to issue the final rule by June 1, 2015.

Coal Burning Power Plant with Huge Piles of Coal
Coal Burning Power Plant with Huge Piles of Coal

Proposed Carbon Pollution Rule Overview

Interestingly, limits are in place for arsenic, mercury, and lead, but there is currently no federal limit on carbon pollution, leaving power plants free to emit unlimited CO2, which accounts for 82% of greenhouse gas emissions. 2

The Clean Power Plan objective is to cut carbon emissions from power plants by 30% from 2005 levels by 2030. 1

In order to accomplish this goal, the EPA has determined specific CO2 emission reduction goals for each state and a timeline to ensure consistent progress. Once the final rule is implemented, the EPA will provide guidelines, review state plans, and assist states with compliance. Each state will determine how to achieve their goal, which may include working with other states in their region.

A Clean Power Plan interactive map on the EPA’s website shows the locations of the fossil fuel-fired power plants. Explore the map by clicking on the “States” and “Power Plants” tabs and then clicking on a specific state or power plant.

State Specific CO2 Emission Reduction Goals

The intent of the carbon pollution rule is to reduce each state’s overall CO2 emissions from generating electricity. Each state has a different goal that reflects their mix of energy sources for the power sector such as coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear, hydroelectric, solar, and wind.

The basic formula for the state goal is a rate: CO2 emissions from fossil fuel-fired power plants in pounds (lbs) divided by state electricity generation from fossil fuel-fired power plants and certain low-carbon or zero-emitting power sources in megawatt hours (MWh). 3

The EPA identified four general approaches states can take to achieve their goal.

  • Make coal-fueled power plants more efficient.
  • Use natural gas fueled power plants more efficiently.
  • Generate more electricity from nuclear power plants and renewable sources.
  • Reduce consumption by using electricity more efficiently.
Wind Farm in Atlantic City, NJ - Photo: Bill Wolfe
Wind Farm in Atlantic City, NJ – Photo: Bill Wolfe

States are already Addressing Carbon Pollution

Many, if not most states are already addressing carbon pollution using several approaches including:

38 states have Renewable Portfolio Standard or Goals, which require utilities to obtain a certain percentage of electricity from renewable energy sources (solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, biomass).

47 states have Demand-Side Energy Efficiency Programs in place, which offers cost reductions to customers that reduce demand during peak periods.

10 states have Market-Based Greenhouse Gas Emissions Programs, also called cap and trade, in which the state sets a limit or cap on carbon emissions, sells the right to emit, and uses the proceeds to invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.

27 states have Energy Efficiency Standards or Goals, which require utilities to reduce energy consumption mostly through customer incentive programs. For instance, rebates for residential customers who purchase energy efficient appliances or for commercial customers who upgrade building systems to be more energy efficient (e.g. HVAC, lighting, equipment).

Public Comment on Proposed Rule – Open Until December 1, 2014

The public comment period, originally scheduled to wrap up October 16, 2014, has been extended to December 1, 2014.

Action Clapboard - Call to ActionIt is fast and easy to submit an online comment via the Federal eRulemaking portal on the “Standards of Performance for Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Existing Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units” page.

Comments may also be submitted by email, fax, mail, or hand delivery (Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2013-0602).

Please take this opportunity to submit a comment in favor of the proposed carbon pollution rule that will enable the United States to make significant headway in cleaning up the power sector, improving air quality around power plants, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Thank you.

Related Posts


  1. U.S. EPA – FACT SHEET: Clean Power Plan: By the Numbers, Cutting Carbon Pollution from Power Plants (link inactive as of May 2017)
  2. U.S. EPA – The Clean Power Plan Proposal 070114 (an excellent 25-minute video)
  3. U.S. EPA – FACT SHEET: Clean Power Plan Framework: National Framework for States, Setting State Goals to Cut Carbon Pollution (link inactive as of May 2017)


Author: Linda Poppenheimer

Linda researches and writes about environmental topics to share information and to spark conversation. Her mission is to live more lightly on Earth and to persuade everyone else to do the same.

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