EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy speaks at a climate workshop at Georgetown University in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
On Friday the Environmental Protection Agency announced rules to cap carbon pollution from new power plants, the first regulation of its kind. The EPA’s proposal would cut emissions from new coal plants to roughly half as much carbon dioxide as today’s coal-fired generators pump into the air.
The new rules, along with guidelines for existing plants still to be written, are the heart of the Obama administration’s climate action plan. Power plants emit about 40 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gases, more than any other single source, and limiting their output is one of the most significant moves the administration can make to combat climate change without cooperation in Congress.
The rules announced today won’t do anything to reduce current carbon pollution, because they apply only to plants not yet built. They do set an important legal precedent for the regulation of carbon under the Clean Air Act, which the agency will rely on when it puts forward performance targets for existing plants next year.
The proposal sets separate standards for new coal and gas fired plants, unlike a similar rule suggested last year. According to EPA officials, most gas-fired power plants built recently already meet the new standards, which would permit new facilities to emit 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour, or 1,100 pounds for smaller plants. Coal plants would face a limit of 1,100 pounds per megawatt hour, or a slightly stricter standard averaged over seven years. Today’s coal plants emit about 1,800 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour, according to EPA.
“We want to send a signal to the market today about what kind of facilities the US government thinks are going to be effective in a carbon-constrained world,” an EPA official said Friday about the new rule on a conference call with reporters. In other words, said the Sierra Club’s Melinda Pierce, the standards are meant to drive investment decisions away from coal and to cleaner sources of energy.
Legislators from coal regions and industry leaders have already linked the new rules to the “war on coal,” and opposition will mount during the sixty-day comment period and while the EPA finalizes the rule, which should be complete next year. Legal challenges are likely to assert that Carbon Capture and Storage (CSS), the technology that several facilities currently under construction are implementing, is not viable or affordable. West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin denounced the new standards, saying they would “have devastating impacts to the coal industry.”