The Clean Power Plan: A Climate Game Changer

A historic opportunity to reduce carbon pollution from the single largest source of U.S. global warming emissions

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. Photo: alohaspirit/iStock

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.

UPDATE (February 10, 2016): On February 9, the Supreme Court placed a hold on the Clean Power Plan, which will stay in place until a lower court rules on the merits and the Supreme Court either refuses to hear the case or rules on the merits. This hold is likely to last for approximately 18 months, depending upon how quickly the appellate process proceeds. UCS president Ken Kimmell weighs in on what the ruling means for the Clean Power Plan.

How the Clean Power Plan works

Photo: acilo/iStock

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)
  • Accelerating Toward a Clean Energy Economy: Federal renewable energy tax credits and the Clean Power Plan provide a powerful one-two punch for boosting clean energy development. (May 10, 2016)
  • Financing Clean Energy: Cost-Effective Tools for State Compliance with the Clean Power Plan—Green banks offer a promising avenue to help states reduce emissions from existing power plants and achieve their EPA Clean Power Plan targets.
  • Beyond the Clean Power Plan: The cumulative costs, including transmission, are essentially the same for both a business-as-usual scenario and a scenario that cuts CO2 emissions from power plants by 42 percent and achieves 30 percent renewable energy by 2030.
  • The Clean Power Plan Opportunity: The United States can affordably cut global warming emissions, chart a course toward a clean energy future, and deliver significant health and economic benefits to all Americans. (March 24, 2016)
  • Meeting—and Exceeding—the Clean Power Plan in Virginia: A robust plan to cut emissions, deliver significant economic benefits for all Virginians, and chart a cost-effective path to a clean energy future. (January 14, 2016)
  • Meeting the Clean Power Plan in Pennsylvania: A cost-effective pathway for Pennsylvania to cut global warming emissions and deliver significant health and economic benefits for all of its residents. (February 18, 2016)
  • Meeting the Clean Power Plan in Minnesota: New analysis shows that a clean energy transition based on strong renewable energy and energy efficiency policies would deliver significant health and economic benefits. (February 23, 2016)
  • Meeting the Clean Power Plan in Illinois: Illinois could greatly enhance its clean energy resources, cost-effectively comply with the emissions reductions required by the Clean Power Plan, and reap important economic and public health benefits. (February 24, 2016)
  • Meeting the Clean Power Plan in New Mexico: New Mexico can cut global warming emissions and deliver significant economic and health benefits for all its residents. (March 10, 2016)
  • UCS Technical Comments on the Proposed Federal Plan and Model Trading Rules for the Clean Power Plan (January 21, 2016)

For the most recent analysis and insights on the Clean Power Plan from our experts and analysts, visit the UCS blog, The Equation:

Fact sheets, reports, and analyses of the draft Clean Power Plan include:


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.

Learn more:


Take Action: Now that the final Clean Power Plan has been released, its potential benefits depend on leadership from the states. You can help. Tell your governor today to seize this historic opportunity!


How much will the Clean Power Plan cost?

FACT: The benefits of the Clean Power Plan far outweigh the costs.

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.


Who's fighting the Clean Power Plan?


Photo: Christian Mueller/Shutterstock

Major fossil fuel companies and special interest groups have worked for years to block efforts to reduce carbon pollution. They continue to do so today. 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.

Learn more:

Photo: NREL

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.

Take action now!

We Need Your Support
to Make Change Happen

We can reduce global warming emissions and ensure communities have the resources they need to withstand the effects of climate change—but not without you. Your generous support helps develop science-based solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.