On December 1, 2014, USGBC submitted comments to EPA on its proposed Clean Power Plan, also known as the 111(d) rule. The proposed rule would, for the first time, regulate carbon emissions from the nation’s single largest source -- existing fossil fuel power plants. The plan’s benefits could be huge:  the proposed rule is projected to cut carbon pollution from the power sector by 30 percent by 2030—the equivalent of emissions from 150 million cars. Public health will benefit too; by 2030, annual projected health outcomes include avoiding 1000s of premature deaths and heart attacks, and averting over 140,000 asthma attacks in children. In turn, missed school and work days are expected to be reduced by half a million.

EPA’s proposal has been both exciting and controversial. Many have found the mere fact of the proposal to be of merit, as it has given the United States government credibility in global climate change negotiations. We are being seen as walking the walk, not just talking big (check out The Guardian’s recent story). Many states, businesses, and organizations that value energy efficiency have found a lot in the rule to like. Other states are unenthused at facing a new regulation – and to be fair, this one will involve significant state effort. 

Here’s a quick primer on the rule:

  •        Stemming from the Clean Air Act authorizing provision, EPA’s rule will apply to states that have fossil fuel power plants (rather than directly regulating the power plants).
  •        EPA developed a standard approach that it applied to each state’s circumstances to create a carbon emissions reduction target. EPA based the targets on four “building blocks” of (1) power plant efficiency improvements; (2) dispatching to cleaner natural gas combined cycle plants; (3) renewable energy; and (4) energy efficiency. Each state has a customized target.
  •        States are to develop plans on how to meet the target. States may use any means, including the four building blocks and others.  Plans can use an array of tools and mechanisms, including private sector and public sector actions.
  •        As proposed, state plans are expected to be due either one or two years (for multi-state submissions) after the final rule.

The U.S. Green Building Council’s comments to EPA supported giving states flexibility to craft compliance approaches, using some or all of the four building blocks, particularly efficiency and renewable energy as measures to reduce emissions from fossil fuel power plants. USGBC’s comments also emphasized that green building and above-code certification such as LEED and ENERGY STAR are key tools available to states and utilities to achieve efficiency (and onsite renewable energy generation). LEED can fit into state plans in a variety of ways, including state leadership-by-example policies, incentivizing private development, via a trading facility, or utility-run programs. For example, a state could adopt or expand a policy for government buildings (including retrofits) to be LEED Silver; provide tax incentives for private sector to certify to LEED; and allow utilities to use LEED in their incentive programs. These projects would be verified to determine energy savings, and the state would calculate the corresponding savings in power plant emissions, thereby contributing to compliance with the target.

We also provided EPA with detailed comments and supporting documentation aimed to clarify the final rule, particular relating to specific requirements in state plans for energy efficiency programs. For example, one such requirement is that energy efficiency programs undergo evaluation, measurement & verification (EM&V). We provided evidence that there is already experience with LEED policies incorporating EM&V to enable translation from a certified performance level to electricity savings, which is needed to determine the corresponding reduction in power plant emissions.  Another exciting idea we supported is the development of a national or individual state registries, which could track efficiency projects and potentially allow them to be traded, giving these projects value that can help drive deep, whole building efficiency over smaller scale gains.

It will not be easy – but we believe the EPA’s approach can work.  All of us in the USGBC community have a role to play, and we will be an important voice and collaborator to support states as they – whether enthusiastically or in some cases unwillingly – craft their plans.  Indeed, Administrator McCarthy recently wrote in USGBC+ magazine: 

“…the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [has] proposed carbon pollution standards for existing power plants… designed to turn climate risk into business opportunity, to spur private sector innovation and investment, and to build a world-leading clean energy economy. The [USGBC] and its members have been at the forefront of solutions to combat climate change, reduce energy consumption, and reduce health risks from the built environment. [USGBC’s] work is a great example of the innovation the EPA’s proposal aims to encourage.”[1]

We’ll now refocus our advocacy related to this rule on selected states, and work with partner organizations to help the plan succeed at its important mission. Have a comment or question? Let us know!

 

[1] Gina McCarthy, “Time to Roll Up Our Sleeves,” in USGBC+ (July/August 2014), available at http://plus.usgbc.org/time-to-roll-up-our-sleeves/