11 Senators Just Told EPA Its Carbon Rule Can Actually Cut More Power Plant Emissions

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) at left, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) at center, and Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) at left are all signatories to the letter. CREDIT: AP PHOTO / HARRY HAMBURG
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) at left, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) at center, and Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) at left are all signatories to the letter. CREDIT: AP PHOTO / HARRY HAMBURG

Eleven United States Senators think the new federal rule cutting the nation’s carbon emissions could go even further.

Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the Clean Power Plan, a new regulation aimed at reducing climate emissions from power plants by 25 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, and by 30 percent by 2030. The effort is part of a broader push by the White House to cut the country’s emissions as a whole by 17 percent below the 2005 baseline by 2020.

The rule gives each state a reduction target and a menu of options for how to hit it. According to a letter the Senators sent to EPA chief Gina McCarthy on Tuesday, the rule can achieve even greater reductions by expanding that menu and modifying how it’s designed.

“While the emission reduction goals of the Clean Power Plan are laudable, we believe that with modest changes to reflect real-world market and technological conditions, the plan can, and should, achieve even greater emissions reductions,” the letter said.


While the senators didn’t reference it, an analysis released in October by the Union of Concerned Scientists determined that the 2030 goal for power plants could be increased to 40 percent with negligible impact on the economy.

“For the Clean Power Plan to be a success, it must achieve the level of emissions reductions that the science calls for to avoid the most dangerous impacts of climate change,” the letter continued. Scientists and policymakers have landed on 2°C of global temperature rise by 2100 as the threshold beyond which climate change will become truly dangerous. At current global emission rates, staying under that ceiling will require all carbon emissions across the world to cease entirely by 2040. But slowing down the speed at which the world is dumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere can extend that deadline.

Signatories to the letter include Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Corey Booker (D-NJ), Ed Markey (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

Specifically, they criticize EPA for relying on “outdated data” that led it to low-ball states’ potential for deploying renewable energy, and that the costs of renewable sources like solar energy are dropping faster than the plan accounts for. Along with that, it recommends the agency take up a different modeling approach to calculate states’ potential.

The letter also points out that most electric grid systems cover multiple states — making states interdependent on one another when it comes to the mix of renewables and fossil fuels in their energy consumption — and that this should be factored into EPA’s reasoning. Finally, the letter suggests the agency include distributed generation as a component states can use to meet their targets, and that it expand the menu of energy efficiency measures that can gain credit under the plan, along with a few other measures.


The White House also recently updated the country’s total reduction target by striking a deal with China last month to cut national emissions 26 to 28 percent by 2025. According to at least some estimates, that commitment will require the U.S. to eliminate an additional 670 million metric tons of carbon emissions from 2013 to 2025, on top of what the Clean Power Plan in its current design will cut.

Ongoing modifications to energy efficiency standards, vehicle fuel standards, and other policies the executive branch can undertake could contribute to that goal. But ratcheting up the Clean Power Plan’s intended cuts could certainly help as well.

John Podesta, a senior adviser to the White House, recently said the agreement with China was grounded in emission reductions that can be made with executive branch powers “that exist in current law,” rather than relying on a “massive new climate reduction program put in place by the Congress.”

The period during which EPA was taking public comments on the Clean Power Plan recently concluded, and the agency will release a finalized design of the rule midway through 2015.