WASHINGTON, DC, June 2, 2014 (ENS) – For the first time, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed to limit emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from existing power plants, the single largest source of carbon pollution in the United States.

Democrats and public health and environmental groups rejoiced in the proposal of a measure they have advocated for years to fight climate change, but Republicans cried doom, warning that the rule would destroy the American economy.

power plant

Big Sandy coal-fired power plant near Louisa, Kentucky (Photo by Lane Report)

Power plants that burn fossil fuels such as coal and oil account for roughly one-third of all climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. There are currently no national limits on carbon dioxide emissions, although limits are in place for the levels of arsenic, mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particle pollution that power plants can emit.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said, “Climate change, fueled by carbon pollution, supercharges risks to our health, our economy, and our way of life. EPA is delivering on a vital piece of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan by proposing a Clean Power Plan that will cut harmful carbon pollution from our largest source – power plants.”

The Clean Power Plan is expected to provide up to $93 billion in climate and public health benefits, according to the EPA.

“By leveraging cleaner energy sources and cutting energy waste, this plan will clean the air we breathe while helping slow climate change so we can leave a safe and healthy future for our kids,” said McCarthy. “We don’t have to choose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment. Our action will sharpen America’s competitive edge, spur innovation, and create jobs.”

In 2009, following a U.S. Supreme Court decision ordering the agency to determine whether or not carbon dioxide is a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, EPA determined that atmospheric carbon dioxide threatens Americans’ health and welfare by leading to long lasting changes in Earth’s climate that can have a range of negative effects on human health and the environment. This determination gave the EPA the authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions.

On September 20, 2013, EPA proposed carbon pollution standards for power plants that will be built in the future and began the process of outreach to states, stakeholders and the public to establish carbon pollution standards for currently operating power plants.

On June 2, 2014, under President Obama’s Climate Action Plan announced in June 2013, the agency proposed the Clean Power Plan to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants.

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Kansas City Power & Light’s Iatan coal-burning power plant in Missouri (Photo by Power)

The Clean Power Plan will be implemented through a state-federal partnership under which states identify a path forward using either current or new electricity production and pollution control policies to meet the goals of the proposed program.

The proposal provides guidelines for states to develop plans to meet state-specific goals to reduce carbon pollution and gives them the flexibility to design a program that makes the most sense for their unique situation.

States can choose the right mix of generation using diverse fuels, energy efficiency and demand-side management to meet the goals and their own needs. It allows them to work alone to develop individual plans or to work together with other states to develop multi-state plans.

Included in today’s proposal is a flexible timeline for states to follow for submitting plans to the agency. Plans are due in June 2016, with the option to use a two-step process for submitting final plans if more time is needed.

States that have already invested in energy efficiency programs will be able to build on these programs during the compliance period to help make progress toward meeting their goal.

By 2030, the Clean Power Plan is expected to cut carbon emissions from the power sector by 30 percent nationwide below 2005 levels. This is equal to the emissions from powering more than half the homes in the United States for one year.

As a co-benefit, the Clean Power Plan is projected to cut particle pollution, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide by more than 25 percent.

The EPA says that as a result up to 6,600 premature deaths will be avoided, as well as up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children, and up to 490,000 missed work or school days.

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The $1.2 billion Clover power station is on the Staunton River in Halifax County, Virginia. (Photo by Dominion Virginia Power)

Since last summer, EPA officials have engaged with state, tribal, and local governments, industry and labor leaders, non-profits, and others. The agency said these consultations confirmed that “states have been leading the way for years in saving families and businesses money through improving efficiency, while cleaning up pollution from power plants.”

To date, 47 states have utilities that run demand-side energy efficiency programs, 38 have renewable portfolio standards or goals, and 10 have market-based greenhouse gas emissions programs. The EPA says these programs represent a proven, common-sense approach to cutting carbon pollution.

EPA will accept public comments on the proposal for 120 days after publication in the Federal Register and will hold four public hearings on the proposed Clean Power Plan during the week of July 28 in: Denver, Atlanta, Washington, DC and Pittsburgh.

Based on this input, EPA will finalize standards next June, following the schedule laid out by President Barack Obama in the June 2013 Presidential Memorandum.

In his weekly address to the nation last Saturday, President Obama anticipated criticism from Republicans in Congress, saying, “Now, special interests and their allies in Congress will claim that these guidelines will kill jobs and crush the economy.  Let’s face it, that’s what they always say. ”

“But every time America has set clear rules and better standards for our air, our water, and our children’s health – the warnings of the cynics have been wrong.  They warned
that doing something about the smog choking our cities, and acid rain poisoning our lakes, would kill business.  It didn’t.  Our air got cleaner, acid rain was cut
dramatically, and our economy kept growing.”

“These excuses for inaction somehow suggest a lack of faith in American businesses and American ingenuity.  The truth is, when we ask our workers and businesses to innovate, they do.  When we raise the bar, they meet it.  When we restricted cancer-causing chemicals in plastics and leaded fuel in our cars, American chemists came up with better substitutes.  When we phased out the gases that depleted the ozone layer, American workers built better refrigerators and air conditioners.  The fuel standards we put in place a few years ago didn’t cripple automakers; the American auto industry retooled, and today, they’re selling the best cars in the world, with more hybrids, plug-in, and
fuel-efficient models to choose from than ever before,” said Obama.

“In America, we don’t have to choose between the health of our economy and the health of our children,” he said. ” The old rules may say we can’t protect our environment and promote economic growth at the same time, but in America, we’ve always used new technology to break the old rules.”

“As President, and as a parent,” said Obama, “I refuse to condemn our children to a planet that’s beyond fixing.”

Republicans lost no time in criticizing Obama’s Clean Power Plan. Although the EPA projects that the plan will shrink electricity bills roughly eight percent by increasing energy efficiency and reducing demand in the electricity system, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio disagrees.

“The President’s plan would indeed cause a surge in electricity bills – costs stand to go up $17 billion every year,” said Boehner. “But it would also shut down plants and potentially put an average of 224,000 more people out of work every year.  It’s a sucker punch for families everywhere paying more for just about everything in the president’s fragile economy.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, a coal-producing state, said, “Today’s announcement is a dagger in the heart of the American middle class, and to representative democracy itself.”

“By imposing these draconian new rules on the nation’s coal industry, President Obama and every other liberal lawmaker in Washington who quietly supports them is also picking regional favorites, helping their political supporters in states like California and New York while inflicting acute pain on states like Kentucky.”

While environmentalists and Democratic Members of Congress praised the Clean Power Plan, predictably, the fossil fuel industries rejected it.

American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Jack Gerard said, “This proposal is not consistent with the administration’s own ‘all of the above’ energy strategy. The uncertainty created will have a chilling effect on energy investment that could cost jobs, raise electricity prices and make energy less reliable.”

“The energy sector is already one of the most heavily regulated industries in the United States,” said Gerard. “Our air is getting cleaner under existing regulations, and carbon emissions are down due to technological advancements developed by the private sector. We can continue to make environmental progress without damaging the economy.”

Texas Democrat Eddie Bernice Johnson who serves as Ranking Member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, said,

“The impact of climate change on American citizens is being felt today and the consequences are growing more severe. Acting on climate change is not only an environmental imperative, but a public health one too. Higher risks of asthma attacks, heat stroke, and respiratory disease are all consequences of a warming climate.

“The climate and health benefits of this proposed rule are estimated to be worth up to $93 billion per year in 2030, far outweighing the plan’s estimated annual cost of up to $8.8 billion per year in 2030,” said Johnson. “The long-term job creation and health benefits are clear and I fully support the work the EPA is doing to curb carbon emissions and protect the health of every American.”

Environmental groups support the proposed rule, saying it would protect, not destroy, the economy.

Rebecca Stanfield of the Natural Resources Defense Council blogged, “On May 16, a coalition of companies including Starbucks, the Gap, Levis, Jones Lange LaSalle, Ikea and Nike wrote to Illinois Governor Pat Quinn urging him to, ‘seize the economic opportunity embedded in addressing climate change.'”

They explained that ‘the health of our economy depends on our ability to capitalize on the opportunities in front of us.’ These companies are part of a growing chorus of business leaders who know that America is at its best when it faces challenges head-on, that ignoring climate change is costing us billions every year that we can’t afford, and that putting people to work on solutions is both the right thing to do for future generations, and the best way to grow our economy.”

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