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August 4, 2015

Final EPA Clean Power Plan gets mixed reviews; Maine ahead in meeting goals

Maine has cut carbon emissions from the power sector by 31% since 2008.

President Obama and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy on Monday released the final Clean Power Plan to mixed reviews Monday, with environmentalists generally praising it for its potential health benefits and the movement toward cleaner fuels and opponents citing high costs for states heavily reliant on coal to meet the targets.

Maine already is ahead of the curve in moving to meet emission reductions, and would have to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 10.8% by 2030, less than the 14% envisioned in the draft plan the EPA proposed in June 2014.

“We’re ahead of pace to meet our objectives, so it’s not a big change for us,” Charles Colgan, professor emeritus of Public Policy and Planning at the University of Southern Maine and the former state economist of Maine, said in a conference call with reporters Monday afternoon after the final plan’s announcement. “But we’ll still have to phase out carbon dioxide emissions.”

Maine has already reduced its power sector carbon pollution by 31% since 2008, according to a White House fact sheet.

The EPA plan, which the White House described as a “landmark action” to establish the first-ever national standards to limit carbon pollution from power plants,” is facing heated opposition, especially from Congressional Republicans. The Republican-controlled Senate still could vote to repeal the rule or it could be undermined by Congress.

The final plan would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 32% from 2005 levels by 2030, which is 9% more than originally expected, though states were given more time to comply than in the draft plan.

Ahead of the curve

Maine is one of nine states that form the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the first mandatory emissions budget and trading program in the United States for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector. It is a cap-and-trade system whereby pollution is controlled using a market approach: those emitting more may buy credits from those using less.

Mayors in 15 cities in Maine have joined the Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, committing to take action in their communities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In 2014, there were approximately 900 people employed in the wind and solar industries in Maine, according to the White House fact sheet.

A recent analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists identified Maine as one of 14 states, including all nine RGGI (also known as “Reggie” states), on track to surpass Clean Power Plan pollution targets.

Dylan Voorhees, clean energy project director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said that that there are some changes to RGGI that the final EPA plan may cause, such as extending its clean energy target date to the federal 2030 from the current goal of 2020.

A recent study found that RGGI contributed $215 million to Maine’s economy over the last six years, mostly due to savings on energy bills by residences and businesses.

Because of its success, other states are expected to join RGGI, according to participants in the NRCM conference call.

Reducing health problems

In announcing the plan, Obama and the EPA said the plan would reduce premature deaths from power plant emissions by nearly 90% in 2030 compared to 2005 and decrease the pollutants that contribute to soot and smog and can lead to asthma attacks in kids by more than 70%.

They claimed the plan would also avoid up to 3,600 premature deaths, lead to 90,000 fewer asthma attacks in children and prevent 300,000 missed work and school days.

The plan also should create tens of thousands of jobs and ensure grid reliability, they said, and drive more aggressive investment in clean energy technologies than the proposed rule, resulting in 30% more renewable energy generation in 2030 and continuing to lower the costs of renewable energy.

The plan also claims climate benefits of $20 billion and health benefits of $14 billion to $34 billion, or net benefits of $26 billion to $45 billion.

The rule falls under Section 111(D) of the Clean Air Act.

The original 645-page Clean Power Plan and its associated technical documents were among the most complex compliance rules every seen, Marc Cone, director of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Air Quality, told Mainebiz when the proposed plan was issued. The DEP alone had five people assigned to reading it, while the Maine Public Utilities Commission had about the same amount.

“There is simply no question that the Clean Power Plan will have a tremendous impact on the health of Maine children and adults for generations to come,” said Dr. Marguerite Pennoyer, a Scarborough-based physician specializing in allergy, asthma and immunology and Maine Leadership Board Member of the American Lung Association of the Northeast. “Reducing carbon pollution may be the single best thing we can do in our efforts to lessen the health impacts of climate change.”

She added that Maine has one of the highest rates of asthma in the country because its geographic location puts it on the receiving end of unhealthy air from other states. People in southern, coastal and Downeast Maine get the worst of that bad air.

“This trend is very troubling and highlights the need for federal action to reduce the pollution that crosses our borders,” she added.

“Maine has suffered in many ways from coal-burning power plants to our south and west,” Colgan added.

Cleaner energy

Compared to other states, Maine has some of the cleaner energy production, as seen in these graphics from the Washington Post.

“By making use of advanced energy technologies and services for compliance, states will be able to improve reliability, reduce costs and give customers more energy choices. These investments in a higher-performing electricity system will also grow businesses, create jobs and drive economic growth,” Malcolm Woolf, senior vice president for police and government affairs at Washington, D.C.-based Advanced Energy Economy, said in a statement.

He added that he is pleased by the increased commitment to renewable energy and energy efficiency in the new plan.

In a separate statement from the joint White House release, McCarthy noted that the plan slashes carbon pollution from fueling climate change, protects families’ health, sets individual state goals based on their current energy mix, is built on input from 4.3 million Americans, will save about $45 billion annually in net public health and climate-related benefits by 2030, and puts the United States in a position to lead on climate action.

Today, the United States is generating three times more wind energy and 20 times more solar power than when President Obama took office,” she noted. “And the solar industry is adding jobs 10 times faster than the rest of the economy. For the first time in nearly three decades, we're importing less foreign oil than we're producing domestically — and using less overall.”

The plan requires states to submit a final plan to reduce emissions or an initial state plan with an extension request by Sept. 6, 2016. Final complete state plans must be submitted no later than Sept. 6, 2018.

The EPA’s final rule provides 15 years for full implementation of all emission reduction measures, with incremental steps for planning and demonstration that will ensure progress is being made in achieving carbon dioxide emission reductions.

The Clean Power Plan has faced sharp and well-funded opposition from corporations and politicians, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who have vowed to try to thwart the plan in Congress and in court, according to the NRCM. McConnell, whose state generates more than 90% of its power from coal, has also urged governors to refuse to comply with the plan.

“We can pursue other avenues, like [Congressional Review Act] resolutions and further appropriations riders, as these regulations are published and as they wind their way through the courts. But here’s the bottom line about today’s [Monday’s] announcement: if the Obama administration were actually serious about advancing renewable energy, then it would follow the example of what leaders like Sen. [Lisa] Murkowski has been achieving in the Energy Committee,” McConnell told Roll Call. “She’s showing how we can make big strides on energy diversification, that we can do it in a bipartisan way, and that we don’t have to punish the middle class to do it.”

While the Clean Power Plan is authorized by Congress under the Clean Air Act, the Senate can vote to repeal the rule, said NRCM’s Voorhees. Congress can also undermine it through budget bills or amendments to other bills.


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Maine among states urging EPA to adopt changes

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