WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed Friday to limit carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants in a bid to implement President Barack Obama’s plan to fight climate change.
The move marks the “first milestone” of a major part of the Climate Action Plan announced in June by Obama, the agency said in a statement.
“Climate change is one of the most significant public health challenges of our time,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said. “By taking common-sense 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.”
The plan foresees that new, large natural gas-fired turbines emit no more than 1,000 pounds (454 kg) of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour, while new, small natural gas-fired turbines would have to emit no more than 1,100 pounds during that same time frame. New coal-fired units, meanwhile, would not be allowed to exceed 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour, with “the option to meet a somewhat tighter limit if they choose to average emissions over multiple years.”
Together, natural gas- and coal-fired power plants account for roughly a third of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The average advanced coal plant currently emits about 1,800 pounds (816 kg) of carbon dioxide per hour, according to industry figures.
The proposed new standards, which will undergo a 60-day public comment period, also seek to ensure that new power stations are built with clean technology to keep carbon pollution to a minimum, according to the EPA. The industry almost certainly will challenge it in court.
“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,” McCarthy said.
The proposal has been warmly received by environmental groups and a number of Obama’s fellow Democrats — but decried by groups that represent industry interests.
“It sets achievable standards for new power plants that will spur innovation in clean coal technologies like carbon capture and sequestration,” said Rep. Henry Waxman, the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “And the proposal will clean up the air and make the U.S. a world leader in advanced pollution-control technology.”
Far less enthusiastic was the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which represents more than 3 million businesses. The group said the new proposal would be “yet another major regulation that will hamper economic growth and job creation, and could lead to higher energy costs.”
Utility companies with large coal fleets already are preparing to challenge the rule, if it is finalized, on the grounds that the agency is requiring pollution controls that have not yet been “adequately demonstrated” in the marketplace.
McCarthy said: “Clearly the technology is available. It’s been fully demonstrated.” The Energy Department has a $6 billion loan fund to help finance development of clean energy technologies, she said.
“We’re not trying to deny that there is a cost associated with these, but any first-generation technology is going to have that,” she said.