PI Original Ellyn Fortino Thursday May 29th, 2014, 6:30pm

Illinois Officials, Enviros Gear Up For EPA's Power Plant Carbon Emission Rules

President Barack Obama is set to unveil federal regulations on Monday to cut carbon pollution from existing U.S. power plants. Progress Illinois takes a look at the potential local impact of the proposed carbon pollution standards and what comes next.

National limits on carbon pollution from power plants could potentially save Illinois households and businesses millions on their electric bills by 2020 while creating more than 2,000 jobs, a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) shows.

Those findings come ahead of proposed federal regulations President Barack Obama is set to unveil Monday. The regulations are expected to be designed to curb carbon pollution from existing U.S. power plants. The unprecedented federal proposal, drafted by the Environmental Protection Agency, will reportedly include national emission standards for power plants while also providing states with the flexibility of crafting their own plans for how they will meet the new rules. 

The New York Times reports that the EPA's carbon rules look to slash carbon emissions by as much as 20 percent from coal-fired power plants, which are the nation's biggest greenhouse gas emitters. Similarly, power plants in Illinois are the single largest source of carbon pollution in the state, producing 41 percent of statewide emissions.

Becky Stanfield with the NRDC said the EPA's draft rules "will permit states to adopt a flexible, system-based approach to regulating carbon, as opposed to a rigid smokestack by smokestack pollution-control regime."

Though more details about the EPA's plan will not be released until Monday, the NRDC maintains new carbon pollution standards could result in increased energy efficiency investments, which could potentially lead to the creation of more than 274,000 jobs nationally, while also saving U.S. households and businesses $37.4 billion on electric bills per year.

For its report, the NRDC looked at the potential benefits of a national carbon-reduction approach that is "largely driven by energy efficiency investments and grants states the flexibility to meet the standards in ways that best meet their individual needs, such as accounting for their different energy mixes." 

If such a plan is implemented, the nation could cut carbon emissions by 25 percent by 2020 (from 2012 levels), according to the analysis conducted on behalf of the NRDC by ICF International. 

New carbon emission standards could also generate 2,700 new jobs in Illinois and save households, businesses and industry customers in the state a total of $803 million on their electric bills in 2020. On average, Illinois households would see a yearly savings of $70 on their electric bills, according to the report. 

The EPA's draft regulations to crack down on carbon emissions from existing power plants is a component of Obama's climate action plan, which was released last June. Additionally, the EPA has already put forward proposed standards to reduce carbon pollution from power plants that are not yet built.

The agency is expected to issue its finalized regulations for existing power plants in June 2015, and states would be required to turn in implementation plans by the following year.  

"The U.S. EPA will be partnering with the states, and two years from now, the states will submit their plans after having gone through a process at the state level to see what (the) best clean energy resources are and what policies will best meet the carbon-reduction goal," Stanfield said.

After the EPA's draft rules are released Monday, the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) plans to gather feedback on the proposal from local stakeholders, such as power generators, distribution companies, environmental groups, the Citizens Utility Board, businesses and others, said ICC's Chairman Doug Scott. During the ICC's engagement process, stakeholders will discuss the best path to compliance for the state as well as "what the real opportunities are that are presented by the rule," Scott said.

"We go into this not taking any particular things off the table at all," Scott said when asked what approach Illinois should take to meet the national standards. "We want to get to a compliance program that meets what the U.S. EPA is trying to achieve and at the same time does the best job that we can for our economy and for our rate payers. I don't know what form that will take. That's the reason that we do the process."

Scott added that there is also the possibility of working with other states "to see if there are regional approaches that might make some sense as well."

Overall, Stanfield said a state-focused carbon reduction plan will provide Illinois with an opportunity to "build a clean, safe, reliable and affordable electric power system and lead the nation in tackling climate change." 

Such an effort would add to the progress Illinois has already made when it comes to implementing standards regarding energy efficiency and renewable energy, Stanfield noted. Current Illinois policies related to energy efficiency are expected to cut carbon pollution by some 12 million tons by 2020, she said, adding that the state also has close to 100,000 people working in the clean energy industry

But Jack Darin with the Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club said the state has more room for improvement.

"In Illinois, we have a fleet of very old, very dirty coal-fired power plants that are near the end of their useful life," he said. "This is a chance for us to make the transition to something that is going to be significantly cleaner, but it will also position our business community, our energy companies and our workforce to build those clean power sources of the future." 

Scott said it is too early to know whether any existing Illinois power plants would be forced to shut down due to the EPA's proposed regulations. He noted that the EPA is trying to "provide some flexibility for states to be able to find a compliance pattern without just having to necessarily shut down everything that's currently operating."

Nonetheless, Darin believes the new EPA rules will be a big help in reducing air pollution in the state while also boosting the local economy.

"We're looking forward to working with Governor Quinn and his team, to working with the business community, with labor and all the stakeholders to come up with a plan to meet these standards that not only create jobs and protect rate payers, but also really do make a serious dent in the pollution that's causing climate change," he said.

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