It’s Time for the EPA to Bypass Congress and Regulate Carbon Emissions on Its Own

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.


David Roberts wrote a while back to praise a new proposal from the National Resources Defense Council for reducing carbon emissions from electric plants. The key part of NRDC’s plan is that instead of setting targets for individual plants, something that creates nearly insurmountable problems, EPA would set targets for entire states:

Here’s how it would work: the EPA would first tally up the share of electricity generated by coal and gas-fired plants in each state during the baseline years (2008-2010 was used for this analysis). Then the agency would set a target emission rate for each state for 2020, based on the state’s baseline share of coal and gas generation.

….Each covered plant with an emission rate above the state standard could meet the standard by using one or more compliance options: First, a plant could reduce its own CO2 emission rate by retrofitting a more efficient boiler or installing CO2 capture systems….Second, the owners of multiple power plants could average the emissions rates of their plants, meeting the required emission rate on average by running coal plants less often, and ramping up generation from natural gas plants or renewable sources instead….The plan also allows trading of credits between companies within a state, and across state lines among states that choose to allow it, further lowering the overall costs of compliance.

This is OK, I guess. But I’m confused. If (a) EPA has the authority to set state standards, and (b) maximizing flexibility is a good thing, then why not simply have EPA mandate a national cap-and-trade system? I assume this is a purely political calculation, but I’m not sure I understand it. It’s not as if the usual suspects won’t fight the NRDC’s state-based plan like crazed weasels, and I guarantee that no matter what formula you use, every state in the union will insist that its target is woefully unfair for some reason or another. If your goal is to avoid the political morass of cap-and-trade, I don’t really see how this plan does it.

Besides, if electricity generators have a choice of the NRDC plan vs. national cap-and-trade, I assume they’d pick cap-and-trade. It gives everybody a little more maneuvering room and delivers the same results more efficiently.

In any case, if EPA really does have any serious plans for regulating carbon emissions at existing power plants, they’d better get moving. This kind of thing takes at least four years to get through the regulatory process, and there’s no telling who will be president four years from now. There’s not much time to waste if they want to get something done while Barack Obama is still in the White House.

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate