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Alaska power plants get exemption from EPA carbon rules

  • Author: Erica Martinson
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published August 3, 2015

WASHINGTON -- Alaska will not be subject to the Environmental Protection Agency's new rule restricting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants across the country.

President Barack Obama rolled out the final rule with unusual fanfare from the White House on Monday afternoon. The United States has cut its total carbon emissions more than any other nation, while growing the economy over the last decade, Obama said. "But I am here to say that if we want to protect our economy and our security and our children's health, we're going to have to do more. The science tells us we have to do more."

Power plants account for one-third of U.S. carbon emissions. The Obama administration said its new regulation could slash those power plants' carbon dioxide emissions 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. The requirement will cut more CO2 than was initially proposed. But states will get another two years to meet the first round of requirements, compared with the draft rule released last year.

Despite its place on the front lines of climate change impacts, Alaska will get a pass on the plan, along with Hawaii, Guam and Puerto Rico. Last summer's draft rule required Alaska to cut power plant CO2 emissions 26 percent from 2012 levels by 2030.

"A few hours ago, I spoke with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, who told me that Alaska will be exempt from the steep requirements of its final rule," Murkowski said Monday afternoon. "This is by far the best possible outcome for our state and therefore a significant victory."

"Actually, I wouldn't use the word 'exempt' -- I would use the word 'defer,' " EPA air policy chief Janet McCabe told reporters later in the day. "What we found is that we don't feel we have the information we need to establish final goals for Alaska, Hawaii, Guam and Puerto Rico at this time." Vermont and the District of Columbia also have no requirements to comply -- they don't have any gas or coal-fired power plants.

The way the rule is written for the Lower 48 "is very dependent upon the interconnectedness of the grid and information that we had available to us for opportunities for those power plants. We do not have that kind of information for the more isolated areas that do not operate on the big grid," McCabe said. The agency does plan to get more information and provide new goals for the states and territories, but there's no schedule for doing so.

Because there is no electrical grid connecting Alaska with the Lower 48, costs of cutting carbon could run high, Murkowski and others told the EPA, urging them to exempt the Last Frontier from the Obama administration's landmark climate regulation.

The EPA's proposal would have applied to five power plants in the state, clustered in the Anchorage area and the Railbelt.

"I appreciate the EPA's recognition of the facts -- that Alaska has unique needs, limited options for cost-effective compliance, and is not interconnected. We simply should not be bound by this sweeping regulation," Murkowski said.

Gov. Bill Walker said he was encouraged by the decision to limit the regulation to the contiguous United States, detailed by agency officials in a call with states Monday. The agency officials said that the agency hopes to eventually set a carbon reduction goal for Alaska, but there is not currently enough information available, and no firm plans to add requirements.

"Alaska has over 200 small utilities across the state, and a very limited power grid on the railbelt. Requiring our state to abide by 'one-size-fits-all' standards could potentially increase our energy costs, which are already the highest in the nation," said Walker. "I am pleased that the EPA has recognized the unique circumstances Alaska is facing, and I look forward to working with the agency officials to come up with appropriate goals for the state in the near future."

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