WASHINGTON, DC, September 20, 2013 (ENS) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today proposed the country’s first Clean Air Act standards to cut carbon pollution from new power plants to combat climate change and improve public health.

The newly proposed standards are meant to ensure that the power plants of the future use cleaner energy technologies, such as efficient natural gas, advanced coal technology, nuclear power, and renewable energy like wind and solar.

power plant emissions

Conemaugh coal-fired power plant operated by Reliant Energy in Pennsylvania (Photo by Stefan Schlöhmer)

Power plants are the largest concentrated source of emissions in the United States, accounting for roughly one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions. While the United States has limits in place for arsenic, mercury and lead pollution that power plants can emit, there are no national limits on the amount of carbon pollution new or existing power plants can emit.

“Climate change is one of the most significant public health challenges of our time,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “By taking commonsense action to limit carbon pollution from new power plants, we can slow the effects of climate change and fulfill our obligation to ensure a safe and healthy environment for our children.”

“These standards will also spark the innovation we need to build the next generation of power plants, helping grow a more sustainable clean energy economy,” she said.

Today’s proposal achieves the first milestone of President Barack Obama’s June 25 Memorandum to the EPA on “Power Sector Carbon Pollution Standards,” a crucial part of the President’s Climate Action Plan, which he announced at Georgetown University on June 25.

To establish carbon pollution standards for existing power plants and build on state efforts to move toward a cleaner power sector, EPA has begun to work with state, tribal, and local governments, industry and labor leaders and nonprofits. In accordance with the June 25 Presidential Memorandum, EPA will issue proposed standards for existing power plants by June 1, 2014.

Today’s proposal sets separate standards for new gas-fired and coal-fired power plants.

New large natural gas-fired turbines would need to meet a limit of 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour, while new small natural gas-fired turbines would need to meet a limit of 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour.

New coal-fired units would have to meet a limit of 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour, and would have the option to meet a somewhat tighter limit if they choose to average emissions over multiple years, which would giving those units more operational flexibility.

McCarthy said these proposed standards will ensure that new power plants are built with available clean technology to limit carbon pollution, a requirement that is in line with investments in clean energy technologies that are already being made in the power industry.

She said the proposed standards offer flexibility by allowing sources to phase in the use of some of these technologies.

Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee, supports the proposed standards. “Every day across the nation we see the harmful impacts of climate change, and we must reduce carbon pollution to protect public health and safeguard future generations,” she said. “EPA’s proposed standard for new power plants is a critical and appropriate step forward in addressing the biggest source of carbon pollution.”

But some Republicans in Congress are opposed.

At a hearing on climate change in the House of Representatives on Wednesday, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy faced climate change-denying congressmen.

One Congressman blamed carbon dioxide emissions from natural sources, such as plants and oceans, to argue that human activity is not the problem. Another congressman claimed that the Earth is not warming, despite the evidence from scientific institutions across the world.

On Thursday, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, a coal-producing state, called the proposed rule “devastating” and announced his intent to file a resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act to stop the EPA from imposing its new regulation by ensuring a vote to repeal it.

“The President’s decision today is an escalation of the war on coal and what that really means for Kentucky families is an escalation of his war on jobs and the Kentucky economy,” said McConnell. “This is another attempt by the President to fulfill his long-term commitment to shut down our nation’s coal mines.”

Environmental groups applauded the proposed carbon emissions standards.

Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp said, “Right now there are no limits at all on the largest source of carbon pollution, so this is a necessary and commonsense step. As communities across our country struggle with terrible floods, droughts, and wildfires, these standards will finally put a limit on the carbon pollution that new power plants emit into our skies.”

“Cleaner power generation will protect our children from dangerous smog, extreme weather, and other serious climate impacts, and ensure that America leads the world in the race to develop cleaner, safer power technologies,” said Krupp.

The NAACP today commended the EPA for its proposal, saying communities of color suffer the worst effects of carbon pollution from power plants.

“This is another major step forward to protect future generations from deadly pollution,” said Jacqueline Patterson, director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program. “Forty percent of all energy-related emissions of greenhouse gases in 2012 came from power plants, and most of that came from coal-burning power plants. This pollution has the most harmful effect on low-income communities and communities of color.”

“We will continue to support these sensible standards in the face of industry opposition until a strong rule is finalized,” said Patterson. “We will also stand by the administration as they enact other long-overdue measures to mitigate climate change, which causes disproportionate devastation in so many different ways. The lives of our children depend on it.”

Nia Martin-Robinson, Beyond Coal organizer with the Sierra Club, said, “The EPA’s proposed carbon pollution protections today show that President Obama is serious about fighting climate disruption. The Sierra Club and our 2.1 million members and supporters applaud President Obama and the EPA for holding the industries that create the lion’s share of the nation’s carbon emissions accountable for their pollution.”

Currently, nearly a dozen states have already implemented or are implementing their own market-based programs to reduce carbon pollution. In addition, more than 25 states have set energy efficiency targets, and more than 35 have set renewable energy targets.

In 2009, EPA determined that greenhouse gas pollution threatens Americans’ health and welfare by leading to long lasting changes in our climate that can have a range of negative effects on human health and the environment.

The agency is seeking comment and information on today’s proposal, including holding a public hearing, and will take that input fully into account as it completes the rulemaking process. EPA’s comment period will be open for 60 days following publication in the Federal Register. In a separate action, EPA is rescinding the April 2012 proposal.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2013. All rights reserved.