The Clean Power Plan Toolbox

The final Clean Power Plan is designed to strengthen the fast-growing trend toward cleaner and lower-polluting American energy


Editor's Note October 18, 2017: In January 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) removed Clean Power Plan resources referenced here from its website.

On August 3, President Obama and EPA announced the Clean Power Plan – an important step in reducing carbon pollution from power plants that takes real action on climate change. Shaped by years of outreach and public engagement, the final Clean Power Plan is designed to strengthen the fast-growing trend toward cleaner and lower-polluting American energy. With strong but achievable standards for power plants, and customized goals for states to cut the carbon pollution that is driving climate change, the Clean Power Plan provides national consistency, accountability and a level playing field while reflecting each state’s energy mix. It also shows the world that the United States is committed to leading global efforts to address climate change.

What Is The Clean Power Plan?

  • The Clean Power Plan will reduce carbon pollution from power plants, the nation’s largest source, while maintaining energy reliability and affordability. Also on August 3, EPA issued final Carbon Pollution Standards for new, modified, and reconstructed power plants, and proposed a Federal Plan and model rule to assist states in implementing the Clean Power Plan.
  • These are the first-ever national standards that address carbon pollution from power plants.
  • The Clean Power Plan cuts significant amounts of power plant carbon pollution and the pollutants that cause the soot and smog that harm health, while advancing clean energy innovation, development and deployment, and laying the foundation for the long-term strategy needed to tackle the threat of climate change. By providing states and utilities ample flexibility and the time needed to achieve these pollution cuts, the Clean Power Plan offers the power sector the ability to optimize pollution reductions while maintaining a reliable and affordable supply of electricity for ratepayers and businesses.
  • Fossil fuels will continue to be a critical component of America’s energy future. The Clean Power Plan simply makes sure that fossil fuel-fired power plants will operate more cleanly and efficiently, while expanding the capacity for zero- and low-emitting power sources.
  • The final rule is the result of unprecedented outreach to states, tribes, utilities, stakeholders and the public, including more than 4.3 million comments EPA received on the proposed rule. The final Clean Power Plan reflects that input, and gives states and utilities time to preserve ample, reliable and affordable power for all Americans.

Why We Need The Clean Power Program

  • In 2009, EPA determined that greenhouse gas pollution threatens Americans' health and welfare by leading to long-lasting changes in our climate that can have a range of negative effects on human health and the environment. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most prevalent greenhouse gas pollutant, accounting for nearly three-quarters of global greenhouse gas emissions and 82 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Climate change is one of the greatest environmental and public health challenges we face. Climate impacts affect all Americans’ lives – from stronger storms to longer droughts and increased insurance premiums, food prices and allergy seasons.
  • 2014 was the hottest year in recorded history, and 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all occurred in the first 15 years of this century. Recorded temperatures in the first half of 2015 were also warmer than normal.
  • Overwhelmingly, the best scientists in the world, relying on troves of data and millions of measurements collected over the course of decades on land, in air and water, at sea and from space, are telling us that our activities are causing climate change.
  • The most vulnerable among us – including children, older adults, people with heart or lung disease and people living in poverty – may be most at risk from the impacts of climate change.
  • Fossil fuel-fired power plants are by far the largest source of U.S. CO2 emissions, making up 32 percent of U.S. total greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Taking action now is critical. Reducing CO2 emissions from power plants, and driving investment in clean energy technologies strategies that do so, is an essential step in lessening the impacts of climate change and providing a more certain future for our health, our environment, and future generations.

Benefits of Implementing the Clean Power Plan

  • The transition to clean energy is happening faster than anticipated. This means carbon and air pollution are already decreasing, improving public health each and every year.
  • The Clean Power Plan accelerates this momentum, putting us on pace to cut this dangerous pollution to historically low levels in the future.
  • When the Clean Power Plan is fully in place in 2030, carbon pollution from the power sector will be 32 percent below 2005 levels, securing progress and making sure it continues.
  • The transition to cleaner sources of energy will better protect Americans from other harmful air pollution, too. By 2030, emissions of sulfur dioxide from power plants will be 90 percent lower compared to 2005 levels, and emissions of nitrogen oxides will be 72 percent lower. Because these pollutants can create dangerous soot and smog, the historically low 3 levels mean we will avoid thousands of premature deaths and have thousands fewer asthma attacks and hospitalizations in 2030 and every year beyond.
  • Within this larger context, the Clean Power Plan itself is projected to contribute significant pollution reductions, resulting in important benefits, including:
    • Climate benefits of $20 billion
    • Health benefits of $14-$34 billion
    • Net benefits of $26-$45 billion
  • Because carbon pollution comes packaged with other dangerous air pollutants, the Clean Power Plan will also protect public health, avoiding each year:
    • 3,600 premature deaths
    • 1,700 heart attacks o 90,000 asthma attacks
    • 300,000 missed work days and school days

How The Clean Power Plan Works

  • The Clean Air Act – under section 111(d) – creates a partnership between EPA, states, tribes and U.S. territories – with EPA setting a goal and states and tribes choosing how they will meet it.
    • The final Clean Power Plan follows that approach. EPA is establishing interim and final carbon dioxide (CO2) emission performance rates for two subcategories of fossil fuel-fired electric generating units (EGUs):
    • Fossil fuel-fired electric steam generating units (generally, coal- and oil-fired power plants)
    • Natural gas-fired combined cycle generating units
  • To maximize the range of choices available to states in implementing the standards and to utilities in meeting them, EPA is establishing interim and final statewide goals in three forms:
    • A rate-based state goal measured in pounds per megawatt hour (lb/MWh);
    • A mass-based state goal measured in total short tons of CO2;
    • A mass-based state goal with a new source complement measured in total short tons of CO2.
  • States then develop and implement plans that ensure that the power plants in their state – either individually, together or in combination with other measures – achieve the interim CO2 emissions performance rates over the period of 2022 to 2029 and the final CO2 emission performance rates, rate-based goals or mass-based goals by 2030.
  • These final guidelines are consistent with the law and align with the approach that Congress and EPA have always taken to regulate emissions from this and all other industrial sectors – setting source-level, source category-wide standards that sources can meet through a variety of technologies and measures.

State Plans

  • The final Clean Power Plan provides guidelines for the development, submittal and implementation of state plans that establish standards of performance or other measures for affected EGUs in order to implement the interim and final CO2 emission performance rates.
  • States must develop and implement plans that ensure the power plants in their state – either individually, together, or in combination with other measures – achieve the equivalent, in terms of either or rate or mass, of the interim CO2 performance rates between 2022 and 2029, and the final CO2 emission performance rates for their state by 2030.
  • States may choose between two plan types to meet their goals:
    • Emission standards plan– includes source-specific requirements ensuring all affected power plants within the state meet their required emission performance rates or state-specific rate-based or mass-based goal.
    • State measures plan– includes a mixture of measures implemented by the state, such as renewable energy standards and programs to improve residential energy efficiency that are not included as federally enforceable components of the plan. The plan may also include federally enforceable source-specific requirements. The state measures, alone or in conjunction with federally enforceable requirements, must result in affected power plants meeting the state’s mass-based goal. The plan must also include a backstop of federally enforceable standards for affected power plants that fully meet the emission guidelines and that would be triggered if the state measures fail to result in the affected plants achieving the required emissions reductions on schedule. States may use the final model rule, which EPA proposed on August 3, for their backstop.
  • In developing its plan, each state will have the flexibility to select the measures it prefers in order to achieve the CO2 emission performance rates for its affected plants or meet the equivalent statewide rate- or mass-based CO2 goal. States will also have the ability to shape their own emissions reduction pathways over the 2022-29 period.
  • The final rule also gives states the option to work with other states on multi-state approaches, including emissions trading, that allow their power plants to integrate their interconnected operations within their operating systems and their opportunities to address carbon pollution.
  • The flexibility of the rule allows states to reduce costs to consumers, minimize stranded assets and spur private investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies and businesses.
  • States can tailor their plans to meet their respective energy, environmental and economic needs and goals, and those of their local communities by: relying on a diverse set of energy resources; protecting electric system reliability; providing affordable electricity; and recognizing investments that states and power companies are already making.

Resources to Help Develop State Plans

As co-regulators, states will develop plans to meet the guidelines in the Clean Power Plan (CPP). The federal resources below provide information on state plan development and can help states determine the most cost-effective approaches to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector. Please note that inclusion of a measure in the toolbox does not mean that a state plan must include that measure. In addition, inclusion of these measures does not necessarily imply the approvability of an approach or method for use in a state plan. States will need to demonstrate that any measure included in a state plan meets all relevant criteria and adequately addresses elements of the plan components.

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