A Winning Combination: Reducing Air Pollution AND Saving Money on Energy Bills
By Shannon Baker-Branstetter on Thursday, September 25th, 2014
Electricity production generates the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States–nearly one third of total emissions. The electricity and transportation sectors combined emit 60% of total emissions in the U.S. We’re already seeing progress on the transportation: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued GHG emission and fuel economy standards for cars and light-duty trucks in 2012 that will cut emissions from 2025 vehicles in half compared to current vehicles and are expected to issue updated standards for medium and heavy duty trucks next year.
But there are still no emission limits for power plants. Last year, EPA proposed greenhouse gas emission limits for new power plants and this year is working on proposed standards for existing power plants.
When most people think of emission limits on power plants (if they think of them at all), they think about filters, scrubbers, or cleaner chemical processes. And indeed, these are some of the technologies that EPA and state agencies have required from power plants and industrial sources with the goal of reducing pollution and improving air quality under the Clean Air Act.
But for greenhouse gas emissions, EPA is proposing a different approach called the Clean Power Plan. The Clean Power Plan looks beyond the physical power plant itself and instead views our entire electricity chain from generation to consumption as a system. Recognizing the global nature and effects of carbon pollution, EPA’s proposal gives states a lot of flexibility in reducing emissions in the state or even in the region.
Under the proposed framework (comments due December 1), EPA sets state-specific targets for reducing carbon pollution, and states will have a 10 to 15 year window after the Clean Power Plan is final to plan for and achieve these reductions. It’s up to states which strategies will work the best in their state or region. The “building blocks” or options for reaching the target include:
- Make fossil fuel power plants more efficient (increase efficiency at the plant)
- Use low-emitting power sources more (dispatch cleaner resources more frequently)
- Use more zero- and low-emitting power sources (expand renewable capacity)
- Use electricity more efficiently (increase efficiency in our homes and businesses)
- cut carbon pollution from the power sector by 30 percent from 2005 levels (equivalent to powering over 1/2 the homes or 2/3 of cars and light trucks in the U.S.)
- cut pollution that leads to soot and smog by over 25 percent in 2030
- 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths
- 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks in children
- 470,000 to 490,000 missed school and work days
- reduce average electricity bills by 8% by 2030
- $4.3 billion to $7.5 billion per year in 2020
- $7.3 billion to $8.8 billion per year in 2030
Overall, the EPA’s cost-benefit analysis shows a net benefit of $22 to $46 billion by 2020 and $46 to $84 billion in 2030. Even the air pollution health co-benefits alone are at least three times greater than the cost of compliance.
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions requires investment, planning and a new way of thinking, but for states that commit to reducing overall energy use through energy efficiency and ramping up renewable energy capacity to fulfill future energy needs, the Clean Power Plan can save consumers money, improve air quality, and help stabilize the climate within the narrow limits that human beings have adapted to survive and thrive.