The Clean Power Plan: A Climate Game Changer
Power plants account for nearly 40 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. That's more than every car, truck, and plane in the U.S. combined.
On August 3, 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized new rules, or standards, that will reduce carbon emissions from power plants for the first time. Previously, power plants were allowed to dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the atmosphere — no rules were in effect that limited their emissions of carbon dioxide, the primary driver of global warming.
These standards, known as the Clean Power Plan, have been developed under the Clean Air Act, an act of Congress that requires the EPA to take steps to reduce air pollution that harms the public's health.
These historic standards represent the most significant opportunity in years to help curb the growing consequences of climate change.
How the Clean Power Plan works
The Clean Power Plan establishes state-by-state targets for carbon emissions reductions, and it offers a flexible framework under which states may meet those targets. The final version of the rule would reduce national electricity sector emissions by an estimated 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
The plan provides for a number of options to cut carbon emissions and determines state emissions reduction targets by estimating the extent to which states can take advantage of each of them. Options for cutting emissions include investing in renewable energy, energy efficiency, natural gas, and nuclear power, and shifting away from coal-fired power. The final rule also takes steps to limit a rush to natural gas.
Targets differ across states because of each state’s unique mix of electricity-generation resources—and also because of technological feasibilities, costs, and emissions reduction potentials, all of which vary across the country. States are free to combine any of the options in a flexible manner to meet their targets. States can also join together in multi-state or regional compacts to find the lowest cost options for reducing their carbon emissions, including through emissions trading programs.
States must submit a final plan, or an initial plan with a request for an extension, by September 6, 2016. Extensions of up to two years, until September 6, 2018, may be granted by the EPA.
Our analysis of the Clean Power Plan
Our extensive analyses, fact sheets, and blog posts cover many aspects of the final Clean Power Plan, with a particular focus on the strong role that renewable energy and energy efficiency can play in reducing carbon emissions.
- States of Progress: Analysis shows that existing clean energy commitments put most states in a strong position to meet their emissions reduction benchmarks and final targets in the Clean Power Plan. (August 13, 2015)
For the most recent analysis and insights on the Clean Power Plan from our experts and analysts, visit the UCS blog, The Equation:
- The latest on the Clean Power Plan from our blog, The Equation
- Four Ways the Final Clean Power Plan Limits the Rush to Natural Gas by Rachel Cleetus, lead economist and climate policy manager (August 7, 2015)
- EPA Expands the Role of Renewable Energy in the Final Clean Power Plan by Jeff Deyette, asst director of research and analysis (August 7, 2015)
- Cost of EPA’s Climate Plan? Minor Compared to the Benefits by John Rogers, senior energy analyst (August 7, 2015)
- Final Clean Power Plan Takes Key Steps to Ensure Reliable Electricity. Now What? by Mike Jacobs, senior energy analyst (August 6, 2015)
- The Final Clean Power Plan: Facts Trumped the Noise by UCS President Ken Kimmell (August 6, 2015)
Fact sheets, reports, and analyses of the draft Clean Power Plan include:
- States of Progress: Analysis shows that existing commitments to clean energy put most states on track to meet the draft Clean Power Plan's 2020 emissions-reduction benchmarks. (June 2015)
- Strengthening the EPA's Clean Power Plan through Greater Use of Renewable Energy: Analysis of the draft Clean Power Plan revealed that the EPA could nearly double the amount of cost-effective renewable energy in their state targets—from 12 percent of total 2030 U.S. electric sales to 23 percent. (October 2014)
- Tapping Renewables and Efficiency to Meet Carbon Standards for Power Plants (PDF): Fact sheet outlines how policy makers can employ renewables and efficiency to reduce global warming emissions from the electricity sector. (May 2014)
- Renewables on Regional Power Grids (PDF): Fact sheet highlights how regional grids have made renewable energy integration much less challenging than once predicted. (July 2014)
- Financing Clean Energy: Cost-Effective Tools for State Compliance with the Clean Power Plan: This report highlights the potential of "green banks" and other innovative financing mechanisms to help states deploy more renewable energy and energy efficiency and achieve their EPA Clean Power Plan targets. (July 2015)
- Climate Game Changer Analysis: Analysis shows how a carbon standard, combined with strengthened renewable energy and energy efficiency policies, can cut power plant emissions in half by 2030. (May 2014)
- UCS Technical Comments on the draft Clean Power Plan -- Executive Summary (PDF)
- UCS Technical Comments on the draft Clean Power Plan -- Full Comments (PDF)
Natural gas vs. renewable energy: States face crucial decisions
As states develop their plans to reduce carbon emissions, they face crucial decisions that will affect their electricity systems—and the consumers who rely on them—for decades to come. In particular, states must carefully evaluate the risks of substantially shifting toward natural gas against the benefits of ramping up renewable energy sources and energy efficiency.
Renewable energy offers a cost-effective solution that delivers sharp reductions in carbon emissions while providing substantial economic and health benefits to states and local communities. Notably, these include stable prices for electricity generated from renewable energy sources because once a facility is constructed, the "fuel"—wind and solar energy—is free.
In contrast, natural gas is a carbon-emitting fossil fuel with a volatile price history. While natural gas offers clear advantages over coal, over-relying on it for electricity creates serious economic and public health risks for consumers and states and fails to provide a long-term solution to climate change.
- The Natural Gas Gamble: A Risky Bet on America's Clean Energy Future
- The Gas Ceiling: The Climate Risks of an Overreliance on Natural Gas for Electricity
- The Economic Benefits of Renewable Energy
How much will the Clean Power Plan cost?
An in-depth analysis of the final rule by the EPA found that the combined climate and health benefits of the Clean Power Plan will far outweigh the costs and that it will deliver billions of dollars in net benefits each year, including $26 billion to $45 billion in 2030. Learn more.
Debunking misleading studies on the Clean Power Plan
FACT: Reports backed by the fossil fuel and utility industries artificially inflate the costs of the Clean Power Plan while ignoring the benefits.
In an effort to block progress on reducing carbon emissions, fossil fuel and utility interests are rolling out disinformation campaigns and misleading studies that exaggerate the costs of the Clean Power Plan. UCS sets the record straight on some of the most prominent examples. Learn more.
Take action: Help support a strong Clean Power Plan
Share your support for the Clean Power Plan by learning more about—and highlighting—the many benefits it provides, from cleaner air to U.S. jobs, energy savings to increased renewable energy.
Help your state become a clean energy leader!
Your governor needs to hear that residents are paying attention and want scientifically-sound plans to meet Clean Power Plan targets that will prioritize clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency.