By Melanie Condon

It was almost a year ago today when President Obama stood in the blistering summer heat of Washington, D.C., to unveil his comprehensive Climate Action Plan. The plan incorporates a series of executive actions focused on reducing carbon emissions. As part of the plan, the president directed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to draft separate proposed regulations for limiting greenhouse gas emissions from both future and existing power plants by June 2014. The proposed rule limiting carbon dioxide emissions for future power plants was released in September 2013.

The EPA issued proposed carbon dioxide emission standards for power plants.Today EPA stuck to its June 2014 deadline by releasing the long-anticipated proposed carbon dioxide emission standards for existing power plants.

The proposed Clean Power Plan, as the administration is calling it, would require the power sector to cut carbon dioxide emissions 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. To do this, EPA is proposing state-specific emissions goals. The state goals are not requirements on each specific power plant, but rather provide individual states the flexibility to meet the 30 percent reduction rate by 2030 through lowering overall carbon intensity of the power sector. EPA will determine state-specific goals by using a basic formula:


CO2 emissions from power plants in pounds

      =      State-specific Goal


State electricity generation from power plants in Megawatt Hours



Regulatory Authority

EPA has the authority to set standards on sources that cause or significantly contribute to air pollutions under section 111 of the Clean Air Act. Specifically, section 111(d) requires states to develop implementation plans for how to comply with such standards set by EPA. While there are currently emission limits on power plants for mercury and arsenic, there are no limits on carbon dioxide. In the 2007 U.S. Supreme Court case Massachusetts v. EPA, the court determined the agency could regulate carbon dioxide emissions if it was able to conclude that the gas endangered public health or the environment. In 2009 EPA issued an “endangerment finding” for carbon dioxide.  

State Flexibility

Under the new proposed rules, states would be allowed to develop implementation plans that fit with their state-specific goals to reduce carbon pollution, and would be given the ability to tailor their plans to the states’ unique characteristics. States will be able to use a variety of mechanisms to comply with the proposed standards including but not limited to heat rate improvements; using less carbon-intensive affected electricity generating units; using more low- or zero-carbon generation; and using demand-side energy efficiency.

States must submit their implementation plans for reducing carbon dioxide emissions by June 2016. States, however, may apply for a one-year extension and multi-state plans can apply for a two-year extension.

For more detailed information on the new proposed rule we encourage you to read NCSL’s Natural Resources and Infrastructure Committee’s Info Alert.

Melanie Condon is a NCSL policy specialist with the Natural Resources and Infrastructure Committee.

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This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.


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