Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Vermont and the EPA Carbon Abatement. Be Careful What You Ask For.

The Carbon Abatement Plan

A few days ago, the EPA issued a proposed plan for greenhouse gas mitigation.  The plan is intended to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the electricity sector by 30% by 2030.  The required mitigations are determined by state.  For example, since Vermont has no fossil fuel electricity plants, Vermont has no required mitigation.

According to USA Today, the EPA document about the plan is 645 pages long. According to many reports, President Obama was frustrated with Congress’s inability to pass greenhouse gas legislation. Therefore, he  asked the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases directly, without requiring a law passed by Congress.

State by State and Here Come the Lawsuits

In the 645 page plan, different states have different proposed carbon mitigations. As reported in the Washington Post  and also published in my local Valley News)

Kentucky and West Virginia get more than 90 percent of their power from coal. The EPA made concessions to those states in setting its climate target. Coal-heavy Indiana, for example, would need to make smaller percentage cuts than New York or Washington states.

  • West Virginia is a heavily coal state, and the EPA says it must cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 19%. 
  • New York State gets less than 10% of its electricity from coal, and 80% of its electricity is generated by nuclear, hydro and natural gas. The EPA says that New York State must cut its carbon emissions by 44%.

To me, these rules seem arbitrary. It is no wonder that many commentators expect a raft of lawsuits. The satirical website, The Onion,  sums up the situation beautifully: New EPA Regulations Would Force Power Plants to Find 30% More Loopholes by 2030.

What about Vermont?

In this potential mess, Vermont is doing well. As Vermont Digger wrote: Obama Points to Vermont as a Model for Carbon Reduction. As noted in that article: Vermont does not generate electricity from coal and is the only state not required to come up with a plan (the district of Columbia is also exempt.)  Indeed, Vermont does not generate much electricity from fossil fuels, though we do generate 14% of our electricity from oil (ISO-NE state profile).  We have hydro, biomass, and of course, Vermont
From ISO-NE state profile
Yankee nuclear power.

Oops.  Vermont Yankee?  Vermont Yankee will go off-line at the end of the year. What will this mean for Vermont’s carbon-reduction plan?

Well, nothing immediately.  Though the current Vermont administration encourages more natural gas pipelines and the state Comprehensive Energy Plan includes a  great deal about natural gas, we don’t have any natural gas power plants in-state at this time.

When our nuclear plant shuts down,  this will not mean that Vermont will immediately generate fossil-fuel-based electricity in-state.  Oh yes, we will be buying more fossil-fuel based electricity from the grid.  Yes, the grid will be burning more fossil fuels to make up for Vermont Yankee being off line.  Those are facts.

However, since Vermont won’t be generating fossil-fuel-based electricity in-state, we won’t have to design a fossil-fuel mitigation plan for Vermont.  To me, this is just another way that the rules are more about politics than about pollutant mitigation.

NOx and carbon and me

Back in the early days of the Clean Air Act, I worked on methods for preventing NOx pollution. At the time, our work was funded by the EPA and the California Air Resources Board (CARB).  NOx (nitrogen oxides) are precursors of acid rain, photochemical smog, and ozone.  Comparing the NOx abatement work with the current set of carbon rules, I notice that this recent pollution control plan is political right from the  beginning.

Usually,  emission rules are based on an assessment of health issues or other concerns of importance to society.  Once the rules are in place, however, groups seek (and often get) variances based on their particular situations. The variances often include political considerations.

Still, the rules themselves, as promulgated,  are supposed to be based on science, not politics. Not in this case, as far as I can tell.  These rules incorporate the politics of each state.

Perhaps this 645 page document means that President Obama’s administration is cutting to the chase: they are going directly to the political realities.  However, one cannot help but notice that drastic cuts in greenhouse gases are set for states with only few coal plants. This isn’t terribly effective as a mitigation measure.  “If you mine and use a lot of coal, that’s okay!  Just small cutbacks!  But if you use nuclear and natural gas...we’re on your case!”

This policy does not have a lot to do with effectively limiting greenhouse gases.

Vermont as the model?

Vermont does not have to come up with a greenhouse mitigation plan because we do not burn coal for electricity generation in Vermont.  After Vermont Yankee shuts down, we will be generating far less of our electricity in Vermont.  The rest of our electricity will be imported from elsewhere, and those other states will have to bear the burden of complying with the new rules. We still won't have to come up with a greenhouse gas mitigation plan for Vermont.  It will be somebody else's problem.

Electric  car in China
Is this truly the model that the president wants? Export your problems?

Be careful what you wish for...

Snide end note:  Does anybody except myself see the irony in the graphic at the top the Vermont Digger article Obama points to Vermont as a model for carbon reduction?  The graphic is a picture of a charging station “for the state’s fleet of solar vehicles.”


Joffan said...

Yeah, calling electric cars "solar" is just gimmickry, and the idea of a real solar car needing a charging station is amusing in a geeky sort of way.

trag said...

It seems to me that an easy way for states surrounding Vermont to reduce their carbon emissions would be to shut down any fossil fuel plants that export electricity to Vermont. It's no skin off the other states' noses and they'll more easily meet their carbon goals that way...

jimwg said...

Re: "Does anybody except myself see the irony in the graphic at the top the Vermont Digger article"

Beyond irony, it's downright pathetic that a whole state would literally pull the plug on its own best solution courtesy a small shrill band of frightened and deceptive people. Meredith, if one asks was the nuclear age accurately born in a blast in a desert or in a pile in Chicago can you guess the media's answer? Please swing an article that answers "Is Nuclear Power Evil?"

James Greenidge
Queens NY

Steve Aplin said...

Solar car... give me a break. Still, if I had a nickel for every breathless media story on solar cars, I'd have about ten bucks. Which is way more than the collective monetary worth of all the stories.

I thought Waxman-Markey was a dog's breakfast. Then I read the new EPA rule.