Act on Climate

Understanding State Goals under the Clean Power Plan

The Clean Power Plan is about getting all the power we need, with less of what we don’t need: pollution.  Many people are now looking more closely at the plan and want to know a little more about how it all works, especially about what role their state will play in reducing carbon pollution.

Because the agency is looking for well-informed comments and input on the proposed plan, I wanted to explain a few key aspects of the proposal.  By answering a few questions such as – 1) what’s the baseline? 2) how is EPA using the Clean Air Act? 3) how can the power sector cut carbon pollution?  4) how did EPA set goals for each state? and 5) what flexibilities do states have? – I hope you’ll come away with a better understanding of the Clean Power Plan and how it will achieve significant air pollution reductions. As more questions come up, we’ll use this space and to answer them.  Now, on to the questions!

What baseline did EPA use to determine how much pollution must be reduced?

EPA did not set a baseline. Remember, the plan is about generating the power we need, but with less pollution.  So instead of setting a baseline, the Clean Power Plan works by setting state goals to reduce the “pollution-to-power ratio” of the covered fossil-fuel fired power plants in a given state.  EPA projects that by 2030, when states meet these goals, the U.S. power sector will emit 30 percent less carbon pollution than it did in 2005.  But 2005 – or any other year – is not used as a “baseline” year for a fixed percentage of reductions.  We are using that statistic only because people need to know how much pollution we’ll reduce by when and compared to what, so we’re just comparing where we will be in 2030 to where we were in 2005.

How does the Clean Air Act work to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants?

EPA is proposing carbon pollution guidelines using section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act.  Basically, this part of the law requires EPA to identify the best and cheapest ways to reduce pollution from a given source – in this case, power plants that burn fossil fuels.   The key to reducing carbon pollution from the power sector is to generate and use power more efficiently.  Put another way, the goal is to reduce the carbon pollution emitted for each megawatt-hour of electricity generated. That provides power with less pollution. The amount of carbon pollution per megawatt-hour produced is called an emission rate.  It is the rate at which pollution is emitted per unit of power generated.  If a source emits a lot of carbon dioxide but produces relatively little energy, then its “carbon intensity” is considered high. Using section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, EPA is proposing that states develop plans to reduce the carbon intensity of the power sector.  The goal is not to limit the amount of power we produce.  It’s about reducing the overall amount of carbon pollution from power plants, while still producing the energy we  need.

How can the power sector reduce carbon emissions?

EPA found that there are a wide variety of commercially available, technically feasible, and cost-effective ways that states, cities and businesses across the country are already using to reduce carbon pollution from the power sector.  EPA identified four measures–that are the commonly used, technically sound,  affordable, and that result in significant reductions in carbon intensity.  They are – 1) improving efficiency at existing coal-fired power plants, 2)increasing utilization of existing natural gas fired power plants, 3) expanding the use of wind, solar, or other low- or zero-emitting alternatives, and 4) increasing energy efficiency in homes and businesses. By applying some or all of these measures a state can reduce the carbon intensity of its power system.  These aren’t the only approaches that states can use, but EPA determined that—taken together—they are the best system of emission reduction, as that term is defined in the Clean Air Act.

How did EPA set goals for each state?

By looking at the mix of power sources and the ability of each state to take advantage of any of the four carbon pollution reduction measures, the EPA calculated goals for each state. The proposed state goals are based on a consistent national formula and calculated using specific information about the state or its region’s individual power profile.  The result of the equation is the state goal.  Each state goal is a rate – a pollution-to-power ratio – for the future carbon intensity of covered existing fossil-fuel-fired power plants in a given state.  States can meet their goal using any measures that make sense to them—they do not have to use all the measures EPA identified, and they can use other approaches that will work to bring down that carbon intensity rate.  I hope this explanation makes clear that EPA is not setting goals based on percentage reductions against a baseline year. But when states meet their goals in 2030, EPA projects that the increased efficiency and reduced carbon intensity will result in a 30 percent less carbon pollution when compared with 2005 levels.

How do the state goals give states flexibility?

EPA has set a goal for each state based on an analysis of the best system of reductions, based on estimates of the potential in each state for efficiency improvements and increased utilization of cleaner generation.  Once the state has a goal, however, it is free to meet that goal in the way that works best for that state.  It can rely more or less heavily on specific measures such as efficiency or renewable energy, or even pursue others such as increases in transmission efficiency or new gas generation.  The state can also choose the policy or portfolio of policies that works best to achieve the goal.

Learn more about the Clean Power Plan

The Clean Air Act and the state planning process offer enough time and flexibility for every state to cut wasted energy, improve efficiency, and reduce pollution – while still having all the reliable and affordable power we need to grow our economy and maintain our competitive edge. In the coming months, we’ll be seeking comments and feedback on the proposed Clean Power Plan, and I encourage you to learn more and join the discussion:

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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How EPA Conserves Energy

When one hears ‘information technology’, often times their first thought is not about climate change. But electronics, electricity, and changing hardware or software versions have the potential to be environmentally friendly. As Acting Assistant Administrator of the Office of Environmental Information (OEI), I am charged with leading the Agency’s information management and information technology programs to provide the information, technology, and services necessary to advance the protection of human health and the environment.

EPA is committed to taking a common sense approach in addressing climate change and promoting a clean energy economy, but what do we do on a daily basis to ensure the information technology services and equipment that are provided to our employees conserve energy resources? More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Reposted: How EPA Research Supports Taking Action on Climate Change

Reposted from EPA’s Connect blog, the official blog of EPA’s leadership.

By Lek Kadeli

As my EPA colleagues and I prepare to join millions of people from across the nation and around the globe to celebrate the environment on April 22, it’s a good time to remember how much we’ve accomplished together since the first Earth Day in 1970.

Forty-four years ago, it wasn’t hard to find direct evidence that our environment was in trouble. Examples of air pollution could be seen at the end of every tailpipe, and in the thick, soot-laden plumes of black smoke flowing from industrial smokestacks and local incinerators. Litter and pollution-choked streams were the norm, and disposing of raw sewage and effluent directly into waterways was standard practice. A major mid-western river famously ignited, sparking both awareness and action. The central theme of EPA’s Earth Day activities this year is Taking Action on Climate Change, echoing our commitment to meeting today’s greatest environmental challenge. And just like our predecessors did decades ago, we are supporting those actions with the best available science.

Dr. Chris Weaver, an EPA scientist currently on leave to serve as the Deputy Executive Director of U.S. Global Climate Change Research Program, explains: “EPA has a major role to play in preparing the nation for change, through its critical responsibilities for ensuring clean air, clean water, and healthy communities and ecosystems. And EPA researchers, working in partnership with their colleagues in other Federal agencies and in the broader scientific community, are at the forefront of advancing understanding of the impacts of—and responses to—climate and related global change.”

Examples of that work include:

I invite you to read more about these and other examples in the 2014 Earth Day edition of our EPA Science Matters newsletter. It features stories on how EPA researchers and their partners are supporting Agency strategies and President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.

Our amazing scientists and engineers are providing the science that decision makers, communities, and individuals need for developing strategies to protect public human health and the environment in the face of a changing climate. Thanks to them, I am confident that future Earth Day events will celebrate how we were able to take action and meet the challenges of a changing climate.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Act On Climate: Become a Climate Citizen Scientist for Earth Day 2014

By Rebecca French

Image credit: U.S. Global Change Research Program (

Image credit: U.S. Global Change Research Program (

Did you know that everyone can participate in climate change research? Public participation in scientific research—“citizen science”—has a long and proven track record. And you and your family can join in on the fun!

Using data from a 114-year-old citizen science project, the Christmas Bird Count, EPA scientists have identified an important indicator of the impacts of climate change: on average, North American bird species have moved northward and away from coasts during the winter—some species some 200 to 400 miles north since the 1960s. I grew up in Connecticut, so that would be like my family moving our house to Canada.

Collecting information on this climate change impact would not be possible without the thousands of volunteers who count birds every year. But this is just one of many climate citizen science projects.

One type of citizen science – volunteer environmental monitoring – can be an integral part of understanding the impacts of climate change. The EPA’s National Estuaries Program (NEP) is a network of voluntary, community-based programs that safeguards the health of important coastal ecosystems across the country. Estuaries are particularly vulnerable to climate change, so getting involved with your local NEP can make a real difference.

EPA also supports many citizen science programs through the Volunteer Water Monitoring Program, and EPA’s Region 2 office has launched a citizen science website with resources to support community-based citizen science projects for water, air, and soil.

The projects above can get you involved on a local scale, but there are also climate citizen science projects that go national and even global using a type of citizen science called “crowdsourcing.” Below are some of my favorite crowdsourcing citizen science projects that combine volunteers and the internet to build national data sets for climate change research:

  • Project Budburst, Nature’s Notebook and NestWatch all require you to get outdoors and record your observations of the natural world, such as when plants are flowering or birds are laying eggs. Kids will love these, so bring your family with you.
  • Participating in Old Weather or Cyclone Center can be done from your couch with a computer and an internet connection. The scientists behind these projects need human eyes to analyze images of ship’s logs or storms. When it comes to image analysis, the human eye is still the best technology out there.

You and your family can volunteer for these climate citizen science projects for Earth Day this year to act on climate. Your contributions will be used by scientists to understand climate change impacts on weather, plants and even birds’ nesting habits.

Take some time for Earth Day this year to contribute to climate change research and learn how these projects have partnered with the public to advance climate science. Maybe you will be inspired to create your own citizen science project. Oh yeah, and have fun too!

Happy Earth Day!

About the author: Rebecca French is an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science & Technology Policy Fellow in the EPA Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Protecting Our Children and Our Environment

It is great to be a granddad. My granddaughter Marin was born on December 8 and my newest granddaughter Effie was born on March 3. They are the most beautiful babies ever. Yes. I am biased. People often ask me why I became a regional administrator for EPA – and I only have to hold one of my granddaughters to know the reason.

Photo of Ron and Marin, his granddaughter.

Ron and Marin, his granddaughter


At EPA, we make visible difference in communities by addressing possible threats to children’s health from environmental exposures and impacts of climate change. Did you know…

  • In Region 6 alone, there are 10 million children under the age of 18. The percentage of children living in poverty in this Region is about 27 percent, just about the highest percentage in the nation. Some people are particularly at risk, especially those who are poor.
  • Asthma prevalence continues to grow. Nationally over 7 million children, or about 9.5 percent have asthma. The Regional average is higher, at more than 12 percent.
  • Climate change is likely to increase the amount of bad ozone in the air because more ozone is created when the temperature is warm.


Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.