Following up on his Inaugural Address promise to prioritize climate change, President Obama unveiled yesterday a Climate Action Plan (Plan), which includes details about what steps the Administration will take to reduce carbon emissions from power plants.The White House also released a Presidential Memorandum that provides the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with specific deadlines for future rulemakings concerning new and existing power plants but few details on what the eventual requirements for existing facilities will look like.

In the Plan, President Obama aims to reduce carbon emissions nationwide by encouraging the use and development of clean energy, bringing up-to-date the transportation sector, reducing energy waste and cutting emissions of other greenhouse gases, including hydrofluorocarbons.  With regard to power plant emissions, the Plan notes that there are currently no federal standards in place to reduce carbon pollution from power plants.  Although EPA issued proposed standards for new power plants over a year ago, it received more than two million comments and never issued a final rule.  The Plan refers to a Presidential Memorandum (Memorandum), issued yesterday, that directs EPA to develop and finalize carbon emissions limits for both new and existing power plants.

Under the Memorandum’s timeline, a revised proposed rule for new facilities is due September 20, 2013, with a final rulemaking to follow “in a timely fashion.”  With respect to existing power plants, the memorandum notably does not require EPA to issue a formal rulemaking setting standards for carbon emissions from such facilities.  Instead, President Obama directs EPA to use its power under Sections 111(b) and 111(d) of the Clean Air Act to issue “standards, regulations, or guidelines, as appropriate” concerning carbon emissions from “modified, reconstructed, and existing power plants” (emphasis added).  EPA must issue a proposal by June 1, 2014, and the final rule (or guidelines) must be promulgated by June 1, 2015.  State implementation plans will be due to EPA by June 30, 2016.  Regardless of the substance of the rules for new and existing power plants, the Memorandum’s timeline leaves little room for delay before the end of Obama’s Presidency.