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Effectiveness of US state policies in reducing CO2 emissions from power plants


President Obama’s landmark initiative to reduce the CO2 emissions of existing power plants, the nation’s largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) pollutants, depends heavily on states and their ability to devise policies that meet the goals set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Under the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan, states will be responsible for cutting power plants’ carbon pollution 30% from 2005 levels by 2030. States have already adopted several policies to reduce the electricity sector’s climate impact. Some of these policies focus on reducing power plants’ CO2 emissions, and others address this outcome in a more roundabout fashion by encouraging energy efficiency and renewable energy1. However, it remains unclear which, if any, of these direct and indirect strategies actually mitigate plants’ emissions because scholars have yet to test their effects using plant-level emission data. Here we use a newly released data source to determine whether states’ policies significantly shape individual power plants’ CO2 emissions. Findings reveal that certain types of direct strategy (emission caps and GHG targets) and indirect ones (public benefit funds and electric decoupling) lower plants’ emissions and thus are viable building blocks of a federal climate regime.

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This study is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation (award number 1123262). The authors thank D. Kaffine, P. Komor, C. Jenkins, W. Longhofer, R. Masters and F. Pampel for valuable feedback on our paper.

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D.G. conceived of the study, performed data analysis, and wrote the text. K.B. and K.R. conducted data collection and helped to write and edit the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Don Grant.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Grant, D., Bergstrand, K. & Running, K. Effectiveness of US state policies in reducing CO2 emissions from power plants. Nature Clim Change 4, 977–982 (2014).

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