The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on March 27 proposed the nation’s first Clean Air Act standard for carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants. Under the standard, greenhouse gas emissions from new coal-fired plants would be reduced by about 50% over the life of the plants. The rule only concerns new generating units that will be built in the future, and does not apply to existing units already operating or units that will start construction over the next 12 months. The proposed standard follows a 2007 decision by the Supreme Court in Massachusetts vs EPA that greenhouse gases are air pollutants that can be regulated under the Clean Air Act.
“Today we’re taking a common-sense step to reduce pollution in our air, protect the planet for our children, and move us into a new era of American energy,” said EPA administrator Lisa Jackson. “Right now there are no limits to the amount of carbon pollution that future power plants will be able to put into our skies—and the health and economic threats of a changing climate continue to grow.”
“Even without today’s action, the power plants that are currently projected to be built going forward would already comply with the standard,” the EPA said in a statement announcing the proposed standard. As a result, the agency does not project additional cost for industry to comply with this standard. However, the National Association of Manufacturers responded that the proposed standard will “drive up energy prices” and “more costly regulations is not the answer.”
The EPA was compelled to propose the new standard not only by the Supreme Court ruling, but by a settlement agreement with a coalition of states led by New York reached in March 2011. “Addressing the threat posed by climate change is one of the most important challenges of our time—one that demands attention, leadership and action at all levels of government and by the private sector. I commend EPA for issuing these common-sense and cost-effective regulations that will result in substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from new fossil fuel power plants,” said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
The settlement of the New York v. EPA litigation requires the agency to finalize greenhouse gas emission standards for new and modified power plants, as well as existing power plants. “EPA has a continuing legal obligation to take the next step and require existing fossil fuel power plants—the largest producers of global warming pollution – to reduce their emissions,” said Schneiderman. “The agency’s action today is an important step forward in confronting the public health, environmental and economic dangers posed by climate change, but we must remain vigilant in order to meaningfully reduce its scale and adverse effects on behalf of the people of New York.”
Greenpeace USA called the proposal “welcome, but disappointing.” Greenpeace climate campaigner Kyle Ash said administrator Jackson and Gina McCarthy, who heads the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, are “climate heroes for moving forward despite a begrudging White House and a Congress mired by a radical right wing in love with coal and oil.” But he added: “Unfortunately, this standard is riddled with weaknesses, like exemptions for biomass and carbon capture and storage, and it does nothing to drive down current climate pollution.”
The proposed standard allows new coal-fired power plants to pollute for 10 years as long as they integrate carbon capture and storage technology and lower emissions enough to bring their annual average pollution down to the limit after 30 years, complains Ash. “The EPA, in effect, has defined an exemption based on unproven technology that even in theory would sequester carbon while exacerbating other catastrophic coal issues – such as mountaintop removal and generating millions of tons of toxic coal ash,” he said. (Environment News Service, March 27)
The Obama administration recently shot down proposed tightened EPA regulations on smog. In 2007, a federal court also ruled that states may set their own regulations for greenhouse gas emissions.
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