PORTLAND, Maine — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants Maine power plants to reduce emissions by 13.5 percent in 16 years, as part of a national plan to reduce emissions by 30 percent, from 2005 levels, by 2030.
The proposed rule signed Monday by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy seeks to meet the national goal by giving states until June 2016 — with possible exceptions — to craft plans for reducing emissions of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour produced by power plants. The rule allows multiple ways for states to cut emissions, including improvements in energy efficiency, increasing adoption of clean power and other methods.
President Barack Obama called for the proposal using his executive authority under the 1970 Clean Air Act.
Jessamine Logan, a spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, said the agency is reviewing the proposal but said flexibility for states, an aspect of the plan McCarthy emphasized in introducing the plan, is a top concern.
“The department strongly believes that the rule should preserve states’ rights and not disadvantage the states [including Maine] that took early action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions,” Logan wrote in an email to the Bangor Daily News.
Since 2009, Maine has participated in the nine-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which the EPA cited as a model regulation for states to meet emissions goals. That program requires power generators that emit greenhouse gases to pay for emission allowances in a regional auction. Money generated from that auction is used to make certain efficiency and emission-reduction investments through the state’s Efficiency Maine Trust.
Logan said that program has allowed the state flexibility in meeting emissions goals through a combination of efficiency investments and replacement of higher-emitting fuels such as coal and oil. Increased use of natural gas, which, according to the EPA, produces half the carbon dioxide of burning coal, may play a part in that plan, Logan wrote.
“Maine will continue to encourage replacement of higher-emitting fuels with carbon-neutral renewable energy sources and low-carbon emitting natural gas, which are cost effective ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Maine and support economic growth,” she wrote.
Emily Figdor, director of Environment Maine, said Monday she also expects the state would meet its emissions targets through the RGGI program.
The EPA said in its draft rule that the RGGI states had, through 2012, invested $460 million through the program, generating an estimated $1.8 billion in lifetime energy savings.
Critics of the proposed EPA rules have said the plan stands to increase energy costs, which the agency’s leader McCarthy contested.
“The bottom line is that we have never nor will we ever have to choose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment,” she said during a broadcast Monday morning.
Business interests, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, prepared an attack on the proposal, expected for months, through a study produced by its Institute for 21st Century Energy. That report estimates the reduction plan will lower the United States’ gross domestic product by an annual average of $51 billion through 2030.
A January 2014 report on Maine’s progress toward its greenhouse emission reduction goals found that while increasing emissions correlated with growth in the state’s real GDP from 1990 to 2003, the state’s GDP did not decline as emissions dropped from 2005 to 2011.
“Maine’s real GDP generally increased through the period of 1990 to 2011, suggesting that emissions reductions were not primarily related to economic activity,” the report states.
In a statement, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers — the union that represents workers at Bath Iron Works, FairPoint Communications and elsewhere — expressed concern the new regulations could reduce the country’s overall electricity production capacity and could negatively affect jobs and production.
The EPA estimates the plan will deliver $90 billion in health benefits — avoiding up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children and reducing up to 490,000 missed work or school days — based on projected improvements in air quality. The federal agency also projects electric bills will be 8 percent lower if the country meets the emissions-reduction goals by 2030.
According to the EPA, emissions from Maine-based power plants amounted to roughly two million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2012, making for an emissions rate of approximately 437 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour of electricity. The state’s 16-year goal calls for a reduction to 378 pounds per megawatt-hour.
Lisa Pohlmann, executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said during a conference call with reporters Monday that, as of December, the RGGI program has generated $31 million in energy efficiency investments in Maine, resulting in more than $250 million in savings over the expected lifetime of those investments.
The Natural Resources Council of Maine previously has lobbied in support of the new regulations, bringing together stakeholders, including oyster farmers, developers and academics, to highlight the environmental changes brought on by increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Mark Green, an oyster farmer and environmental science professor at St. Joseph’s College, said during the call that ocean acidification threatens to deplete shellfish species in the Gulf of Maine and poses a threat to creatures like phytoplankton, which are a fundamental support for the ocean’s food chain.
The NRCM’s campaigning is an acknowledgment that adoption of the EPA’s rules will need to withstand political challenges from the coal and natural gas industries and groups like the U.S. Chambers of Commerce, according to Maureen Drouin, executive director of Maine Conservation Voters.
“Congress may play a role if they try to get in the EPA’s way or try to limit the agency’s ability to limit carbon pollution,” Drouin said.
The political charge of the announcement was clear after Monday’s announcement, which elicited statements of support from independent U.S. Sen. Angus King, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree and Democratic gubernatorial candidate and U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly named the Natural Resources Council as the National Resources Council.