EPA: Carbon Rules Could Ensure Nuclear Power's Survival

[Another reason why the dirty energy resistance needs to band together. -Josh]
- by Julie Wernau, June 18, 2014, Chicago Tribune
[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"210","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"358","style":"width: 222px; height: 166px; margin-right: 10px; margin-left: 10px; float: left;","width":"480"}}]]Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said Tuesday that the federal agency's proposed carbon rules are designed to boost nuclear plants that are struggling to compete.
“There are a handful of nuclear facilities that because they are having trouble remaining competitive, they haven't yet looked at re-licensing (to extend their operating lives). We were simply highlighting that fact,” McCarthy said at a round-table discussion with business leaders in Chicago.

The comments by the highest-ranking official charged with carrying out the Obama administration's environmental policies firmly positions the U.S. as a supporter of nuclear power, which doesn't emit carbon. Those views run counter to Germany, which is phasing out nuclear power over health and environmental concerns after Japan's nuclear disaster in 2011.

Illinois' reduction targets also reward the state if it chooses to help prop up the 6 percent of nuclear power in the U.S. that the agency has determined is under threat of extinction. It's not clear what portion of that total is in Illinois.

However, Chicago-based Exelon Corp., which owns six nuclear plants in Illinois, has signaled that as many as three of those plants could close if policies at the state and federal level don't help it increase profitability.
Last month Exelon lobbied Illinois legislators to adopt a resolution in favor of pro-nuclear policies that go beyond the carbon rule. The resolution asks state regulatory bodies to prepare reports that explain the “societal cost” of increased greenhouse gas emissions in the state if nuclear plants close, and the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to outline job losses that would come from closing nuclear plants.
McCarthy was in Chicago to field questions from reporters and business leaders and help clarify expectations the EPA has for states.
She acknowledged that the EPA's mandate to try to prop up the 6 percent of nuclear power that is threatened with closure wasn't broken down by state.
“Many have pointed out that it was an inelegant way to do it, so we have asked them to comment on it,” McCarthy said.
She said “hours and hours of discussion” led the administration to allow energy efficiency and renewable energy to count toward carbon reduction goals. While states ultimately would decide how to meet targets, McCarthy warned that if nuclear capacity goes away, “it's a lot of carbon reduction that needs to be made up for a long period of time.”
Each state would select how to meet its goal and submit an implementation plan to the EPA in 2016.
McCarthy said the proposed carbon rules are not a “stretch” and that states should not compare their targets against one another based on percentage of reduction. Instead, she said, they should look at the tons of carbon that are being reduced. She said state goals were designed to work with what states are already doing to reduce carbon emissions.
“People are looking at this as a percentage reduction, which really don't make a whole heck of a lot of sense, but it's a common way that people look at it,” she said.
For instance, Washington state is being asked to reduce by 84 percent the amount of fossil fuel it burns. But that's because it is closing its one remaining coal-fired power plant; the EPA's target was based on that knowledge.
“If you go back and translate those percentages into tonnage reductions, it may make a little more sense,” she said.
For example, in 2012, Washington emitted 1,370 pounds of carbon to produce a megawatt-hour of electricity. In Illinois, 2,189 pounds of carbon were discharged to produce a megawatt-hour.
The Obama administration's vision of a lower carbon future goes beyond propping up nuclear power. Companies pushing energy efficiency, wind power, solar power and transmission projects told McCarthy that their projects were crucial to making that vision a reality.
Policy experts have been scratching their heads since proposed rules were announced this month to lower greenhouse gases from power plants.
For instance, while nationwide the rules aim to cut carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels, Illinois received a goal to lower emissions by 33 percent from 2012 levels.
The goal is confounding to some because Illinois received a whopping 49 percent of its power from nuclear plants in 2012. It also means that Illinois doesn't get credit for carbon cuts that resulted from closing several coal-fired power plants from 2005 to 2012.
The proposal to limit emissions is subject to a 120-day comment period and public hearings. The rules are expected to be finalized June 1. The comment period begins after the draft rules are posted in the federal register.