The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday proposed the first-ever limits on greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants. The high-profile announcement marks the second time in less than a year the agency has released far-reaching rules aimed at fulfilling a key pillar of President Obama’s sweeping climate plan — to cut carbon pollution from both existing and planned power plants.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy unveiled a dense, 645-page proposal to limit carbon dioxide emissions from roughly 1,000 existing coal, gas, and oil plants nationwide — the largest source of carbon pollution in the United States, accounting for nearly one- third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions. McCarthy presented the groundbreaking regulation as a “vital piece of President Obama’s climate plan” and “critical step forward” in the global fight against climate change.
“This is not just about disappearing polar bears or melting ice caps,” she said. “This is about protecting our health and our homes. This is about protecting local economies and jobs.”
Dubbed the “Clean Power Plan,” the EPA proposal would cut carbon emissions from existing plants by as much as 30 percent by 2030, as compared to 2005 levels — or, about 730 million metric tons of carbon pollution. Under this plan, state officials would develop energy-efficiency policies and renewable-energy programs to meet what the EPA has identified as state-specific goals for reducing carbon pollution.
To reach such “carbon targets,” the states could implement a range of options from designing a market-based carbon tax to using “no carbon” electricity sources like wind, solar, and nuclear. The EPA proposal would give states a flexible timeline for submitting their plans to the agency, with initial drafts or final plans due by June 2016.
Touting the plan’s “huge” benefits, including the billions of dollars saved in health-care costs because of fewer asthma attacks and premature deaths, the EPA administrator called it “an investment in better health and a better future for our kids.”
Alluding to the battle now brewing over carbon regulations for power plants, she added, “There are still special interest skeptics who will cry the sky is falling. Who will deliberately ignore the risks, overestimate the costs, and undervalue the benefits. But the facts are clear.”
Even before Monday’s announcement, the EPA’s plan to regulate carbon pollution from aging coal-fired power plants had set off a fierce lobbying campaign by coal companies and coal-burning utilities. Last fall, the agency announced its first-ever national standards to cut carbon dioxide emissions from planned power plants; those standards are pending. Like that rule, opponents consider Monday's proposal to be an effective ban on coal plants.
“If these rules are allowed to go into effect, the administration for all intents and purposes is creating America’s next energy crisis,” said Mike Duncan of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, the coal industry’s most public voice. Noting how coal still accounts for nearly 40 percent of all electricity, he reiterated longstanding industry arguments about the costs of such stringent regulation — i.e., higher energy prices, lower grid reliability.