EPA Clean Air Regional Dir.: Clean Power Plan Provides States with Flexibility While Reducing Emissions

President Obama’s Clean Power Plan to curtail greenhouse gas emissions is ambitious and controversial. It could lead to cleaner air and limit coastal flooding, but it could also cost more. It has powerful opponents. Gov. Chris Christie flatly opposes it and the American Energy Alliance contends that replacing traditional power with renewable energy will cost more without making the environment cleaner. New Jersey has three coal plants, which are the biggest source of greenhouse gases. Roughly half of the state’s electricity is generated by nuclear plants, which are carbon free. But the Clean Power Plan requires more from New Jersey. EPA Regional Director of Clean Air and Sustainability John Filippelli sat down with NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams to walk through the policy.

New Jersey has cut carbon emissions from its power plants by 33 percent since 2001. Filippelli says that New Jersey needs to make its coal fired power plants cleaner and rely more on clean fuels and renewable energy. “The state has made a lot of progress in recent years as you mentioned, but the magnitude of the climate problem is so serious there’s more that needs to be done,” he said.

For New Jersey residents, he says much of the day-to-day consumption of electricity will remain unchanged while reducing power bills and benefiting the climate and cleaning air.

“Our Clean Power Plan projections are that by 2030, the last year of the plan, the compliance year, that the average household’s electric bill through efficiency and other improvements will be $80 less a year than it is now,” Filippelli said. “So ultimately it should not cost the consumer more. The consumer should not feel, or will not feel, any changes in reliability or access to electricity in the sense it won’t make a difference in how you use your electricity at home. Of course they’ll be cleaner air and climate benefits resulting from this also.”

He also says that New Jersey stacks up pretty well against other states in terms of controlling pollution and CO2 emissions.

“New Jersey has been an ambitious state in controlling air pollution for many years. Ambitious, innovative and has done a lot of things to control pollution from traditional power plant pollutants like sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide particulates and the like. As a result of that, New Jersey is among the better performing states in terms of CO2 emissions from power plants,” he said.

While the state plans are subject to EPA approval, Filippelli says there is a lot of flexibility built into how states achieve the goals set forth in the plan.

“There are lots of flexibility built into the plan. As a matter of fact, that’s one of the hallmarks of the plan is to rely on the states to exercise flexibility, exercise what works in their state. And again that could include cleaner fuels. That could include improvements to existing power plants to make them operate cleaner. It could include energy efficiency, emission trading. A variety of strategies are available to the states and it’s up to the states to come up with a mix that works best in their state,” he said.

While it’s up to the states to come up with plans, Filippelli says those plans have to be approved by the EPA.

He offers some strategies that New Jersey can employ to reduce its CO2 emissions under the Clean Power Plan.

“o improve the operations of existing coal power plants, switch to cleaner fuels where available, increase the reliance on renewable energy. In fact New Jersey does have an ambitious renewable energy portfolio standards that are already in place and rely more on renewable energy, just basically zero carbon emitting,” Filippelli said.