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EPA: Clean Air Act lacks tools to save struggling nuclear industry

TheClean Air Act lacked the tools to offer a life raft to the struggling nuclearindustry within the Clean Power Plan, a U.S. EPA official said July 11.

Speakingat the U.S. Energy Information Administration conference in Washington, D.C., theEPA's Joseph Goffman, associate assistant administrator and senior counsel,said the agency originally pitched more nuclear-specific policy in theproposed version ofthe Clean Power Plan that was released in June 2014. But in the ensuing publiccomment period, stakeholders urged the agency to abandon the language.

"Everybodyagreed that what we had come up with was a really bad idea, and then everybodyagreed to disagree about what a good idea looked like," Goffman said.

Theproposal was a system of crediting nuclear generation, specifically existingreactors that were under significant economic pressure. Goffman said thedisagreement on a suitable policy that could be enforced under the Clean AirAct showed that the EPA lacks the proper "tools" to remedy the rangeof problems facing the nuclear industry. Specifically, Goffman said the agency'soptions were limited by the way the "best system of emission reduction"is defined, which is the foundation of the carbon-cutting rule for existingfossil fuel power plants; how the final standards for coal- and gas-firedgeneration were set; and how state planning processes were established.

subsidiaryPacific Gas and Electric Co.was the latest to announcea nuclear retirement, after agreeing with environmental groups in June to closethe Diablo Canyonfacility in California when its operating licenses expire in 2024 and 2025. Theannouncement came just days after a similar announcement from the thatthe Fort Calhounplant would close at the end of the year. Exelon Corp. has also announced that at least four ofits nuclear plants are on the chopping block.

EIADeputy Administrator Howard Gruenspecht said his agency has taken existingnuclear for granted over the years, which he suspects will change given theturmoil facing the industry.

"Itwas a proverbial no-brainer that you keep the [existing plants] running as longas you could," Gruenspecht said. "It seems that as often [happens]when you assume that something is a no-brainer, you find out that it is not."

TheEIA intends to invest new resources into better studying and modeling nucleargoing forward, Gruenspecht said. Gathering information on the industry can be achallenge, though, as Gruenspecht said initial paperwork to prepare forlicensing extensions in some cases is still years and years from beingreleased.

MichaelTubman, director of outreach for the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions,or C2ES, said energy policymakers may need to look outside of the Clean PowerPlan to a larger climate change policy to find a remedy for nuclear's woes.

"TheClean Power Plan is a big deal, but it has its limits. It only runs till 2030, andyou think about how long it takes to get a new power plant licensed, andoperating, and built and the … long term signals that are needed for theexisting fleet," Tubman said.

C2EShas been working with states on their Clean Power Plan strategies, and Tubmansaid many are concerned about how to keep their existing nuclear plantsoperating and include them in their Clean Power Plan compliance strategies.

"We'retrying to work with them to figure out those options, so if anyone does haveany great ideas about how to include nuclear in the Clean Power Plan at a statelevel, please, come see me after. I'd love to hear," Tubman said.