Antinuclear Effect of Clean Power Plan Could Allow Emissions to Rise

EPA Says Energy Trends Will Remain Consistent Even “In Absence of this Rule”

States that close existing nuclear power plants could be allowed to increase carbon dioxide emissions under a final EPA rule regulating carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act.

For this and other reasons, the EPA acknowledged that its rule would likely not alter existing rates of deployment or decommissioning for either nuclear or renewables — all “will remain generally consistent with what their trends would be in the absence of this rule,” the EPA says.

Moreover, the EPA said, even with the new regulations, the coal-to-natural gas transition will be slower from 2015 to 2030 than it was from 2005 to 2014.

States get to choose from two ways of measuring their goal according to rate of emissions reductions and amount of emissions reductions.

While EPA declined to provide an incentive to keep nuclear power plants online, it said it would subsidize wind, solar, and energy efficiency as part of its Clean Energy Incentive Program.

The main source of bias is how the EPA sets its baseline against which states’ compliance will be measured. By not recognizing existing sources of zero-carbon power, the EPA rule is biased against nuclear, the largest source by far (two-thirds) of zero-carbon electricity generation.

The negative effect this measurement system would have on nuclear was identified by a team of graduate students working under Steve Skutnik, a professor at the University of Tennessee.

Last year, the New York Times reported that Natural Resources Defense Council, an antinuclear environmental organization, wrote the blueprint for the EPA's new rule.

An individual state can, for example, shut down a large nuclear power plant and replace it with 100 percent natural gas. Although the state’s physical carbon dioxide emissions would rise considerably, such a move would be credited as a reduction under the Plan’s rate-setting formula.

Furthermore, since this rule only covers emissions from existing generation, state utilities can build new natural gas plants to replace 100 percent of nuclear power and still show net “reductions” in carbon dioxide intensity under the formula because of how existing generation capacity is calculated.

While natural gas has significant climate benefits when it is displacing coal, replacing nuclear and hydro with gas clearly runs counter to the intended aims of the Clean Power Plan.

While an earlier version of the rule did not allow states currently building nuclear plants to count them toward future emissions reductions, the new rule allows the three states building new plants to count the electricity generated toward meeting their targets.