Having received millions of public comments since it had issued carbon proposals last year, the Environmental Protection Agency went back to the drawing board. On Friday, it delivered its revisions, which are now out for a subsequent review.
“Climate change is one of the most significant public health challenges of our time. 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,” says EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “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.”
Under the proposal, new large natural gas-fired turbines would need to meet a limit of 1,000 pounds of CO2 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 need 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, giving those units additional operational flexibility, EPA said in a statement. It adds that those standards will provide some flexibility.
Power plants are the largest concentrated source of emissions in the United States, together accounting for roughly one-third of all domestic man-made greenhouse gas emissions, EPA says. While the United States has limits in place for arsenic, mercury and lead pollution, there are no national limits on the amount of carbon pollution new power plants can emit, it adds. EPA has previously determined that greenhouse gases threaten public health, and its finding was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Interest groups are reacting with a fury. Here’s a collection of thoughts:
Tom Kuhn, head of the Edison Electric Institute: “The new proposal sets a separate standard for coal-based units and requires the use of carbon capture and storage technology, which is neither adequately demonstrated nor economically feasible.”
Dan Bakal, electric program director at Ceres, which promotes sustainable energy policies: “In short, these (proposals) will be economically beneficial, technology- and innovation-driving regulations.”
Myron Ebell, director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Center for Energy and the Environment: “During the several years it will take to finalize the rule and then overturn it in federal court, no electric utility will invest in planning or building a new coal-fired power plant. American consumers and manufacturers will be denied the benefits of the low-cost electricity produced by coal.”
Mike Duncan, head of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity: “Ironically, the EPA’s proposal could actually do long-term harm to the environment. By stopping the development of new coal plants, the EPA is halting the development of carbon capture and storage technologies. This misguided policy only adds insult to injury to an industry that has successfully used clean coal technologies to reduce many emissions by more than 90 percent.”
Jacqueline Patterson, director of the NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Program: “We will continue to support these sensible standards in the face of industry opposition until a strong rule is finalized. 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.”
Chris Faulkner, chief executive of Breitling Energy Companies, an oil and gas developer: “We’re witnessing the death of the coal era and the birth of the natural gas era in America. I think Obama’s new carbon limits make a statement that natural gas is in fact the bridge fuel for America’s future and we welcome it. Natural gas-fired power plants already meet the President’s new carbon limits. Coal plants will have to invest in new technology and I would caution people to be aware that this cost will be passed along to electricity users as a rate increase that could be as high as 15 percent.”
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska: “The administration does not have the ability to will technologies into existence by sheer force of the rules it imposes on American energy producers. Instead, a longer-term commitment to basic, scientific research is required for the technological breakthroughs that we all seek and support.”
Ned Helme, president of the Center for Clean Air Policy: “We should all feel reassured that EPA has met the President’s target date for re-proposing the greenhouse gas standard for new power plants. This puts the new source proposal on solid legal footing. EPA can now move forward without delay to engage stakeholders in crafting guidance to states for setting meaningful and flexible standards that will lower carbon pollution from existing power plants.”
Rachel Cleetus, an economist with the Union of Concerned Scientists: “The U.S. power sector is already retiring existing coal plants and moving toward cleaner energy sources. When it comes to new plants, federal estimates tell us that even without these new rules, we can expect just 9 gigawatts of new coal power — about 15 average-sized plants — to come online between now and 2040. The electricity industry should be looking even more favorably at renewables and efficiency, especially since draft standards for existing power plants are due in June 2014.”
The comment period for the revised proposal on all prospective power plants is 60 days. As stated here, a final rule will be litigated by its opponents, although proponents also note that a legal challenge can be defeated. In June 2014, EPA will issue its proposed standards for existing facilities.