Obama Administration Releases Plan to Cut Carbon Emissions from Coal Plants 30 Percent by 2030

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By Glynn Wilson –

At the behest of President Obama and after months of planning and public feedback, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released the much anticipated Clean Power Plan proposal on Monday. It seeks to cut carbon pollution from existing coal-fired power plants — the largest source of carbon pollution in the country — for the first time with federal regulations.

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Gina McCarthy, EPA

The agency and the administration say the action will protect public health, move the nation toward a much cleaner environment and fight climate change due to global warming from the burning of fossil fuels, all while supplying Americans with affordable and reliable electric power for years to come.

“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,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said while announcing the plan. “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. 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.”

By 2030, the plan should cut carbon emission from power plants by 30 percent nationwide to below 2005 levels, an amount equal to the emissions from powering more than half the homes in the U.S. for one year. A side benefit of the plan would be a reduction in particle pollution, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide by more than 25 percent. All of this would prevent an estimated 6,600 premature deaths, up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children, and 490,000 missed work or school days, which could result in about $93 billion in benefits to public health and savings from the slowing of damage costs due to climate change.

In addition, the Obama administration claims it will shrink average electricity bills across the country by about 8 percent by increasing energy efficiency and reducing demand in the electricity system.

Under the draft rule, the EPA would let states and utilities meet the new standard with different approaches mixing four options, including energy efficiency, shifting from coal to natural gas, investing in renewable energy and making power plant upgrades. Other compliance methods could include offering discounts to encourage consumers to shift electricity use to off-peak hours.

The regulations are one of the most significant steps the federal government has ever taken to curb greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change, and the draft rule is sure to spark a major political and legal battle. Anticipating that, President Obama called a group of Senate and House Democrats on Sunday afternoon to thank them for their support in advance of Monday’s announcement.

Environment and public health activists, including the national Sierra Club, have been pressuring the president to use his executive authority to impose carbon limits on the power sector since a climate bill stalled in the Senate four years ago. Opponents, including coal producers, some utilities and many Republicans, have argued that the EPA is using a novel legal approach to demand stringent greenhouse gas cuts that are not achievable given current technology, but their arguments have so far lost in the courts.

The average coal-fired power plant in the U.S. is 42 years old, according to the EPA, and they are terribly inefficient even though some have been updated and equipped to eliminate some air and water pollution. Some were built when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president in the 1950s. But the agency says even if the new rules go into effect without a successful legal challenge, 30 percent of electricity in the U.S. will still come from coal plants even by 2030.

The new regulations will also affect natural-gas-fired power plants, which emit about half as many greenhouse gases as coal plants, although those plants on average are much newer and more efficient, with an average age of only 14 years in service.

“This plan is all about flexibility,” McCarthy said in announcing the plan Monday morning. “That’s what makes it ambitious, but achievable. That’s how we can keep our energy affordable and reliable. The glue that holds this plan together — and the key to making it work — is that each state’s goal is tailored to its own circumstances, and states have the flexibility to reach their goal in whatever way works best for them.”

EPA said that for every $1 invested, Americans would reap $7 in health benefits.

Links to More Information

Fact sheets and details about the proposed rule

More information on President Obama’s Climate Action Plan from the White House.

© 2014, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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