Texas Battles EPA on Carbon Emissions Rules

October 15, 2014 By Devon Bass

Devon Bass

Representatives and officials from the state of Texas are pushing back against the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed new federal standards to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, saying that they will disproportionately affect the state and that the new guidelines might be out of compliance with previously-passed legislation.

In an ongoing effort by the Obama administration to reduce the country’s contributions to global warming and climate change by promoting energy sources such as solar, wind, natural gas and nuclear power that create fewer emissions or none at all, the EPA has released a draft proposal of the Clean Power Plan. These new federal guidelines will require power plants to reduce carbon emissions by as much as 50% in some cases by the year 2030, with an interim goal set for 2020.

Kenneth Anderson, a member of the Texas state utility commission, said at a House hearing that the new standards could make Texas responsible for 25% of the overall reduction for the United States, even though the state produces only 11% of the nation’s energy. Texas is the largest producer of carbon emissions in the country by a wide margin, so it would have to reduce emissions by much more than other states. Another challenge is the interim goal set for 2020, which would require major infrastructure changes to be in place and at least partially working within six years, a target that seems untenable to opponents of the proposed guidelines.  Texas has just completed a huge $7 billion electricity infrastructure project to make better use of the state’s abundant wind energy capacity. Ratepayers aren’t likely to have the stomach for another multi-year, multi-billion dollar infrastructure plan that would likely drive up electricity rates.

Anderson joined officials from Indiana, Montana and Arizona in requesting that the October 16th deadline for comments on the new rule be delayed, saying that a comprehensive study by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas of the impact on the state’s 550 power plants would not be complete until December, so any comments they made by the current deadline would not be based on the full knowledge resulting from that study. However, representatives from Washington and Maryland are urging the EPA to proceed apace, saying that even though their states also have issues with the proposed standards, the EPA has been responsive so far, and they are confident that the agency will take all comments on the rule under consideration to make the guidelines more workable. Washington’s David Danner cautioned that there were costs associated with a delay in taking action, as well.

Now, Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, including Rep. Michael Burgess of Texas, are raising questions about the legality of the new standards, as the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct05) includes language that power plants that receive federal funding for emissions reduction must not be considered as demonstrable reference points for setting new emissions standards for all commercial plants. David Hawkins, Climate Programs Director of the Natural Resource Defense Council and former air administrator at the EPA, said that the agency can already look to several decades of industrial experience with carbon capture technology on which to base its standards, and that the energy committee’s letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz requesting documents regarding EPAct05’s implementation is unlikely to yield dramatic results.

Devon Bass is managing partner with Vault Energy Solutions.

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