The Environmental Protection Agency’s apparent change of heart on plans to limit greenhouse gas emissions at existing power plants came during a White House review of the agency’s proposed greenhouse gas rule for new plants, according to documents obtained by POLITICO.
A draft version of the proposed rule for new plants’ emissions repeatedly references the agency’s controversial plans to eventually regulate greenhouse gases from existing plants.
But now agency officials say no such plans exist.
The plans were still alive in the draft proposal that EPA sent for review by the White House Office of Management and Budget on Nov. 7. “At a future date, EPA intends to promulgate emission guidelines for states to develop plans reducing [carbon dioxide] emissions from existing fossil-fuel-fired [electric generating units],” the draft says in the first of many references to future regulations for existing power plants.
EPA published its final version of the proposal in the Federal Register on Friday. POLITICO obtained the Nov. 7 draft — and a merged comparison of the two — through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The agency publicly announced carbon dioxide limits March 27 for new power plants only and made extensive legal arguments to exempt any existing plants undergoing major construction projects.
Requiring CO2 emission cuts from existing power plants could be especially costly and would inevitably fall mostly on comparatively dirty coal-fired plants. Republicans have called the recently proposed rule the “death of coal” and accused the EPA of planning to expand the rule to existing plants as soon as critics turn their backs.
Even EPA’s decision to regulate emissions from new plants isnot without controversy. Future coal-fired power plants will be required to employ costly carbon-capture technology to bring their CO2 emissions to the level of a combined-cycle natural gas plant.
EPA agreed to create the rule in a December 2010 settlement with several environmental groups, 11 states and two local governments.
The agency has said that setting standards for new plants comes in tandem with a statutory requirement to “establish emission guidelines that states use to develop plans for reducing emissions from existing sources,” according to a fact sheet released with the 2010 settlement. Those detailed guidelines for states may be less stringent than those for new sources but would include expected timelines, EPA said.
David Doniger, the chief global warming lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council, still expects the agency to act on standards for existing plants.