It’s ‘foolish’ for Calif. to heed high court stay

Source: Debra Kahn, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, February 19, 2016

As U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan weathers legal turmoil, at least one state is proceeding full steam ahead.

California’s Air Resources Board released a white paper yesterday exploring ways to mesh the state’s existing climate change regulations with those envisioned under the federal rule for existing power plants.

California officials said they were dismayed by last week’s 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court to freeze the Obama administration’s landmark climate program while legal challenges move forward in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. But they still plan to stick to their original timeline for complying with the rule while it’s in legal limbo.

“There’s no reason for us to delay,” ARB Chairwoman Mary Nichols told E&ETV’s OnPoint earlier this week. “Obviously, we were surprised and disappointed — as were many other people — by the decision, but as we look at where we are and what we need to do, first of all, we still believe very strongly that EPA will prevail, that the Clean Power Plan will be upheld at the end of the day, so it would be foolish to slack off in our efforts to develop approvable plans right now.

“One of our objectives was to get our plan in on time, if not early, as a way of showing other states that this is something that could be done and further inviting them to join with us in this effort, and so that effort will continue regardless,” she said.

The state is in good shape to meet its emissions target of a 13.2 percent rate reduction by 2030 and has said it plans to use its economywide cap-and-trade system — which held its 14th auction of allowances yesterday — as its primary “state measure” in its submission to EPA.

As the only state with an economywide carbon cap, California is already on track to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and is writing regulations to reach 40 percent below that by 2030. Even in a high-emissions scenario, which could come about through higher-than-expected electricity demand or a drought that limits hydropower production, the state expects to be at least several million tons below EPA’s 2030 target.

The white paper lays out potential ways to adjust the state’s cap-and-trade program — which currently covers about 400 industrial facilities that emit more than 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year — to make it meet EPA’s requirements. Most of the changes are relatively straightforward.

One tweak that the state is considering is changing the dates by which power plant operators are required to turn in carbon allowances in order to align the schedule with EPA’s. The schedule would also have to be changed in any jurisdiction that’s linked to California’s program. So far, that has been limited to the Canadian province of Quebec.

To provide a “backstop” enforcement method in case power plant emissions are higher than expected, the state envisions creating an extra pool of 10 million allowances, which all power plants would be required to purchase from in the event of an overage.

ARB envisions that no changes are needed to insulate the program against leakage, or the prospect of shuffling emissions from one generating unit to another that might not be covered. Agency staff also think that the existing program complies with EPA’s prohibition against “borrowing” emissions from future years.

The paper notes the possibility of linking to other CPP markets and the need to adjust emissions figures to account for trades between states but says that the state’s plan does not need to account for linkages because none are yet on the table.

“As state plans mature, such linkages may become a possibility,” it says.

ARB will hold a workshop Wednesday to discuss the paper. Public comments on the paper are due by March 11.