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New Climate Change Guidance for NEPA Reviews

In the United States, federal agencies that license, permit or finance energy and infrastructure projects must, with some limited exceptions, analyze the environmental impacts of those projects before they approve them, pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA).  But to what extent must those agencies consider climate change impacts as part of their NEPA reviews? The President’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) has just issued a guidance document that addresses that question. CEQ’s guidance document—an August 1 memorandum addressed to the heads of all federal departments and agencies—urges federal agencies to consider two climate change-related topics when conducting NEPA reviews. The first topic is the impact of a proposed project on climate change, and the memorandum urges federal agencies to approach that topic by focusing on the project’s direct, and indirect, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Agencies are encouraged to...

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Implications of the Clean Power Plan Stay

Late in the day on Tuesday, February 9, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed, for at least a year and possibly longer, the implementation of the Clean Power Plan (CPP), the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) widely-publicized regulations governing greenhouse gas emissions from existing coal-, oil- and gas-fired power plants.  The stay means that the CPP’s requirements and deadlines are on hold, at least until resolution of the pending legal challenges to the CPP.  But what are the broader implications of the Court's decision? First, the stay decision bodes poorly for the ultimate fate of the CPP, even though the Supreme Court did not opine as to the CPP’s legality.  The stay decision signals, at a minimum, that a majority of the Supreme Court is sympathetic to the challengers’ claims that the CPP is unlawful.  Indeed, it signals more than that—a distrust of EPA’s assertions about the minimal burdens imposed by the CPP.  That said, the CPP may yet survive...

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EPA Publishes its Proposed Regulations for Existing Power Plants – Starting the Public Comment Period

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published in the Federal Register its June 2, 2014, proposal to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from existing fossil fuel-fired power plants.  The act of publication triggers the start of the 120-day public comment period, meaning that interested parties must submit comments to the agency by no later than October 16, 2014. On Thursday, June 26, McDermott will be hosting a complimentary webinar on critical issues to address during the comment period.  Click here to register.

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EPA’s Proposed Power Plant Regulations – Simpler Than You Think

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its long-anticipated proposal for regulating greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants on June 2, 2014, to much fanfare.  The proposal is simpler than it looks.  Here are the key points. 1.  The Proposed Rule is Only 38 Pages Long.  It’s the “Justification” That Takes up Space.  Many observers have been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of material associated with the EPA’s proposal – a 607-page preamble, a “legal memorandum” defending the proposal, a “regulatory impact analysis” discussing the proposal’s impacts and several “technical support documents.”  All of that material is important, but if you want to understand the heart of what EPA is proposing, focus on the draft regulatory text – the actual proposed rule.  Read the other material if you want to understand EPA’s justification for the rule. 2.  The Gist of the Proposed Rule: Target Rates and State Compliance Plans.  The rule applies to...

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Massachusetts Permit for New Natural Gas Plant Incorporates Global Climate Conditions Including Sunset Date

The Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board (Siting Board) approved a certificate for a 630-megawatt natural gas-fired power plant in Salem last month.  The certificate is unique in that it incorporates the terms of a settlement agreement that imposes greenhouse gas emissions caps and requires the plant to sunset operations no later than 2050. The facility is scheduled to begin operations in 2016 and will replace a 63-year-old oil- and coal-fired plant.  The emissions caps, which would gradually decrease beginning in 2026, could be satisfied by emissions reductions from reduced operations or carbon-capture systems; credits or allowances from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI); Renewable Energy Certificates; or investment in Massachusetts Renewable Portfolio Standard-eligible local renewable generation, energy efficiency or demand-response measures. The certificate is the result of a settlement reached between the developer and an environmental...

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New Legislation Would Vacate Proposed Carbon Pollution Standard for New Power Plants

by Bethany K. Hatef Congressman Ed Whitfield (R-KY.), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Energy and Power Subcommittee, introduced a bill on October 28, 2013 that would void the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) pending proposed rulemaking, regulating emissions of carbon dioxide from new coal-fired and natural gas-fired power plants.  Representative Whitfield worked closely with Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), who will introduce the same bill in the Senate.  The legislation, if enacted, would impose restrictions on EPA’s issuance of any new proposal to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from new and existing power plants, and could hinder EPA’s ability to comply with President Obama’s directive to regulate carbon emissions from existing power plants by June 1, 2015.  In connection with the legislation, coal miners and coal companies rallied on Capitol Hill in protest of EPA’s current proposed regulation limiting carbon...

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Power Plant Cases in the Supreme Court

by Jacob Hollinger The Supreme Court’s 2013 term just began but it is already shaping up to be an important one for power plant owners and operators.  Three points stand out: First, on October 7, the Court denied cert. in Luminant Generation Co. LLC v. EPA, a case in which several power companies were challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) current approach to regulating air emissions during startup, shutdown and malfunction (SSM) events.  The Court’s action leaves in place a Fifth Circuit decision which upheld EPA’s approach, at least as applied to the Clean Air Act state implementation plan (SIP) for the State of Texas.  More importantly, the Court’s action is likely to bolster EPA’s confidence as it pursues its ongoing rulemaking concerning the SSM provisions in 39 other SIPs, a rulemaking in which EPA has proposed eliminating affirmative defenses for excess emissions that occur during...

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EPA Proposes CO2 Emission Limits for New Power Plants and on Track to Regulate CO2 Emissions from Existing Plants by 2015

by Jacob Hollinger and Bethany Hatef The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a proposed rule concerning carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from new coal-fired and natural gas-fired power plants. The September 20 proposal meets a deadline set by President Obama in a June 25 Presidential Memorandum and keeps EPA on track to meet the President’s June 2015 deadline for regulating emissions from existing power plants. Once the September 20 proposed rule is published in the Federal Register, interested parties will have 60 days to comment on it.  Under EPA’s September 20 proposal, which replaces an earlier, April 2012 proposal, new coal plants would be limited to 1,100 pounds of CO2 emissions per megawatt-hour (lbs/MWh) of electricity produced, with compliance measured on a 12-operating month rolling average basis.  The proposed rule would also require new small natural gas plants to meet a 1,100 lbs/MWh...

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Obama’s Climate Plan Provides Timeline to Reduce Carbon Emissions at New and Existing Power Plants

by Bethany K. Hatef Following up on his Inaugural Address promise to prioritize climate change, President Obama unveiled yesterday a Climate Action Plan (Plan), which includes details about what steps the Administration will take to reduce carbon emissions from power plants.The White House also released a Presidential Memorandum that provides the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with specific deadlines for future rulemakings concerning new and existing power plants but few details on what the eventual requirements for existing facilities will look like. In the Plan, President Obama aims to reduce carbon emissions nationwide by encouraging the use and development of clean energy, bringing up-to-date the transportation sector, reducing energy waste and cutting emissions of other greenhouse gases, including hydrofluorocarbons.  With regard to power plant emissions, the Plan notes that there are currently no federal standards in place to reduce...

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California Cap-and-Trade Program Marches Forward

by Ari Peskoe California’s cap-and-trade compliance obligations became binding on January 1, 2013, culminating six years of regulatory proceedings. Although the California Air Resources Board (CARB) deemed the first auction for emission allowances in November a success, revised statistics revealed that two-thirds of all bids submitted were disqualified. In other recent developments, the state’s Public Utility Commission (CPUC) announced how revenues from the auctions will be allocated, and CARB (the program administrator) set the stage for emissions-offset projects. The second allowance auction is scheduled for February 19. Authorized by the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, California’s cap-and-trade program aims to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, a modest goal given the state’s numerous other initiatives aimed at reducing emissions. Approximately 75 participants,...

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