For regulators, focus on Clean Power Plan quietly shifts from venting to compliance 

Source: Emily Holden, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, December 8, 2014

As the dust settles in the wake of U.S. EPA’s comment deadline for its Clean Power Plan, state authorities who spent the last six months detailing technical questions and contentions with the draft rule are increasingly turning their attention toward the specifics of potential compliance pathways.

A group of state energy officials and electric and air regulators are meeting behind closed doors in the Washington, D.C., area yesterday and today to discuss how energy efficiency programs could help states achieve required carbon emissions reductions, according to a meeting agenda.

The 3N group, which consists of the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO), the National Association of Clean Air Agencies (NACAA) and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC), heard from top EPA officials and highlighted four case studies by NASEO. They were about residential energy efficiency programs overseen by state utility regulators, combined heat and power and industrial energy efficiency, energy savings performance contracting, and building energy codes.

Attendees were also asked to consider what other compliance pathway case studies might be helpful.

“Once the comments are in, discussions are ramping up about what kind of implementation strategies are going to make the most sense,” said David Cash, a Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection commissioner.

But that could be a slow and private process while states that are publicly fighting the draft rule start to think about how to comply but try to keep their options wide open.

“They can be opposing the plan and maybe even fighting it through litigation, but also know that those efforts might not succeed and want to be able to be prepared if need be,” Cash said.

Big umbrella groups like 3N have been meeting on the rule to improve communication between state officials who have never worked together at this level in the past and help facilitate understanding of the rule (ClimateWire, Nov. 26).

The group heard an explanation of an EPA technical support document on energy efficiency from three high-ranking EPA officials: Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation; Joe Goffman, associate assistant administrator and senior counsel for the Office of Air and Radiation; and Sarah Dunham, director of the Office Of Atmospheric Programs.

Looking at ‘win-win’ options

Cash said the energy efficiency initiatives under discussion this week are the sort of “win-win” regulatory programs that can be enticing to states regardless of how they feel about the rule because they have economic and environmental benefits.

That may be why the 3N group selected energy efficiency as a starting point. The three organizations had pushed for energy efficiency to be part of the proposal last spring, before EPA released its draft rule.

In the months before the comment deadline, state officials were focusing heavily on the unanswered questions of the rule — how did EPA set state targets, what assumptions did the agency make, and how should certain technical language be interpreted, just to name a few. They were working quickly to make sure they laid the groundwork for what they wanted to see in a final rule in their official correspondence with the federal agency.

Air and environment officials from around the country, for example, pooled and submitted a total of more than 100 questions to EPA and discussed them in a series of Web-based seminars from September through November.

NACAA and the group of 17 state air agencies that split from NACAA in 2009 — the Association of Air Pollution Control Agencies, or AAPCA — worked together to streamline the questions with the Environmental Council of the States, an organization of state environmental agency leaders. For some of the sessions, more than 160 lines were on the calls, and each line might have represented a handful of employees in one office, NACAA said. The webinar on getting credit for compliance was perhaps the most popular, based on the number of questions considered for submission.

Phil Assmus, senior staff associate for NACAA, said the responses from EPA on those calls were extremely helpful to participants, even though they were not necessarily a “treasure trove” of illuminating answers.

That’s because some of the questions were straightforward and technical in nature, and could be answered more easily. But others were on issues that were off-limits because they were expressly reserved for comment, Assmus said.

NACAA included the list of questions in its comments on the Clean Power Plan.

Clint Woods, executive director of AAPCA, said there are still some big mysteries. “They did their best to answer questions,” Woods said. “There are still several categories, in which it was reflected in state comments, where the agency wasn’t able to necessarily give a completely satisfactory answer.”

States are still looking for those answers, but they’ll also be concentrating more on compliance methods, Woods said.