EPA’s costly Clean Power Plan is wasted effort

The EPA's Clean Power Plan sets goals to reduce CO2 emissions that are already being exceeded under the influence of market forces; the CPP is unnecessary regulation.

1,534 Mw Sandow Station coal-fired power plant in Rockdale, Texas. Credit: Steve Davidson

PHOENIX, Aug. 13, 2015 — The EPA’s just-finalized Clean Power Plan is not needed. The CPP’s goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 is already being met without it.

The CPP is the centerpiece of President Obama’s second-term climate change agenda.

Electric power plant CO2 emissions reach 27-year low in April. Credit: U.S. EIA
Electric power plant CO2 emissions reach 27-year low in April. Credit: U.S. EIA

On Aug. 5, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that in April, the most recent month for which emissions data are available, power plants had their lowest monthly carbon dioxide emissions in 27 years.

Electric power plant emissions 15 percent below 2005 levels. Credit: EIA/Steve Davidson
Electric power plant emissions 15 percent below 2005 levels. Credit: EIA/Steve Davidson

Since 2005, the electric power sector has reduced its carbon dioxide emissions more than any other primary energy sector. By the end of 2014, electric power plants had already reduced their CO2 emissions to 15 percent below 2005 levels.

By comparison, the transportation and residential energy sectors have reduced their emissions by 10 percent.

The electric power industry is doing more to reduce carbon pollution than any other. Overall, total U.S. carbon dioxide emissions are down 10 percent from 2005’s near record high emissions.

At its current reduction rate, the goal of the CPP will be realized by 2025, even if the CPP is abandoned.

There are a number of reasons why power sector emissions are down. The recession of 2008-2009 played a roll. The big emissions dip in 2009 resulted from the effect of that recession. By 2010, as the economy bounced back, so did emissions, but they then resumed their general downward trend.

Tens of billions spent on renewable energy power plants, funded mostly by 2009’s Recovery Act, have also played a roll. Since 2005, the amount of U.S. electricity produced by renewable sources has increased by 5 percent, according to EIA records. That accounts for one-third of the emissions reductions.

Conservation and energy efficiency improvements have probably made a small but as yet unmeasured contribution.

Most emissions reductions have come as an outgrowth of the hydraulic fracturing revolution. Since 2007, retiring coal-fired power plants have been replaced primarily with more energy-efficient natural gas power plants. Natural gas produces half the carbon emissions of coal and, adding to its benefit, generates more usable electricity from the fuel it burns than coal does. That lowers emissions two ways.

The transition from coal to natural gas is driven by free markets. Natural gas power plants are cheaper to build and operate than coal-fired plants. Their environmental benefits are a terrific added bonus.

One Clean Power Plan document is the giant, 1,560-page final regulation (PDF) with about an equal number of highly complex technical support document pages backing it up. It requires every state to create its own plan or to throw in with other states in multi-state plans.

It’s so hard to understand, interpret and design a functional plan that states are not required to start implementing them until 2022. By then, most of the CPP’s goal will already have been met through cheaper free-market solutions.

The EPA’s Clean Power Plan is an unneeded, unnecessary monstrosity that will ultimately cost tens of billions and do little more than add to the growing burden of over-regulation that plagues this nation and slows economic growth by imposing higher energy costs.

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