Maine and other states in the Northeast appear well-positioned to comply with proposed federal rules for carbon dioxide emissions because of a regional program that has already helped reduce greenhouse gas pollution from power plants.
On Monday, the Obama administration introduced its most aggressive climate change initiative to date, a plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 30 percent by 2030. The proposal was cheered by environmental organizations but denounced by some business groups, conservatives and lawmakers from coal-producing states.
The response in Maine was less critical, even positive, largely because the state’s fossil fuel-burning power plants have been operating for five years under a market-based approach to limit emissions of climate-warming gases. Maine officials were still evaluating the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal Monday but expressed hope that the plan will take into account the progress made under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
“It appears that RGGI is more than compliant, but we do need to review the details to ensure that is the case and then ultimately present the plans to the EPA for them to approve,” said David Littell, a member of the Maine Public Utilities Commission who serves on the regional group’s board of directors. “But we are glad to see EPA moving forward with a national standard.”
Environmental groups and most members of Maine’s congressional delegation praised the EPA proposal, predicting it will spur action in other states without forcing major changes on power producers in Maine. The state has none of the large coal-burning plants that could face the brunt of new restrictions.
“We are expecting the rest of the country to catch up with us,” said Lisa Pohlmann, executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
The EPA is proposing that Maine reduce carbon emissions from its existing power plants by 13.5 percent, from 437 pounds per megawatt hour in 2012 to 378 pounds per megawatt hour in 2030.
Each state was assigned a target based on the state’s energy resources, power supply characteristics and other factors.
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is a cap-and-trade system in which power plants must buy credits for each ton of carbon they emit. The credits are then traded on a carbon market like other commodities, with states using the auction proceeds to pay for initiatives such as industrial energy conservation or home weatherization.
Emissions from power plants in states in the group have already fallen 40 percent, although market trends toward cleaner-burning natural gas and away from coal or oil are also major factors.
EPA officials said Monday that states would be given flexibility to present plans for meeting the emission reduction goals. They also indicated that they would allow multi-state plans, and that initiatives such as the RGGI could be used to show progress toward the goals, if they met certain criteria.
ENERGY COSTS VS. EMISSIONS LIMITS
Jessamine Logan, spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, said the department was still analyzing the potential implications of the rules, but that any federal action “should preserve states’ rights and not disadvantage the states that took early action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.”
“Maine must balance new initiatives with its need for low-cost energy,” Logan said in a prepared statement. “Maine will continue to encourage replacement of higher-emitting (carbon dioxide) fuels with carbon-neutral renewable energy sources and low carbon-emitting natural gas, which are cost-effective ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Maine and support economic growth.”
In Maine, 42 percent of power generation comes from natural gas-fired plants, followed by hydropower (26 percent), biomass (23 percent) and wind (6 percent).
Six power plants in Maine are regulated under the RGGI: Wyman Station in Yarmouth, Independence Energy in Veazie, the Westbrook Energy Center, Rumford Power, and the co-generation plants operated by Verso Paper in Bucksport and Jay.
Verso Paper generates most of its power by burning woody biomass. The Wyman Station plant is oil-fired but typically operates only a few days a year, when electricity demand skyrockets or natural gas is in short supply.
PRAISE FOR FLEXIBILITY IN DRAFT RULE
The owner of Westbrook Energy, Texas-based Calpine Corp., praised the EPA proposal’s flexibility.
“Calpine supports the EPA’s proposal because we believe it will ensure continued progress toward cleaner energy in a way that supports ongoing (power) grid reliability while allowing market forces to work to deliver the lowest-cost solution for reducing GHG emissions,” CEO Thad Hill said in a prepared statement.
Others saw economic opportunities in the federal regulations.
“The U.S. EPA’s new proposed regulations to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants could be an opportunity for Maine companies,” Jeff Marks, executive director of the Environmental & Energy Technology Council of Maine, said in a written statement. “The draft rule provides multiple options for states and utilities to meet the standard, including increased energy efficiency, conversion to natural gas, market-based trading and investment in renewable energy.”
Mark Green, an environmental science professor at St. Joseph’s College in Standish, said the acidity of oceans is already rising because of increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. As oceans become more acidic, clams, lobsters and other organisms in the Gulf of Maine have problems growing or maintaining shells.
“These new EPA standards and rules are going to go a long way toward addressing ocean acidification,” Green said.
DELEGATION IN CONGRESS SUPPORTIVE
Members of Maine’s congressional delegation were largely supportive of the proposals.
Independent Sen. Angus King and Democratic Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud praised the flexibility of the EPA’s rules and predicted that the emphasis on renewable energy will help spur job creation in Maine’s burgeoning “clean energy sector.”
“The EPA regulates toxins like lead, mercury and arsenic. There is no reason why carbon pollution should be given a pass and I’m glad the EPA is proposing these reductions,” Pingree said in a prepared statement.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins was more reserved, saying climate change is “a significant challenge that requires global solutions in order to reduce greenhouse gas pollution worldwide.”
“I will carefully review EPA’s wide-ranging and complex proposal to reduce carbon emissions from existing fossil-fueled power plants,” Collins said in a prepared statement.
Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at: