Carbon Pollution Standards for Power Plants Released

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released an updated draft of its proposal to limit carbon emissions from new power plants. The plan—a key component of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan—represents a significant step forward in the fight against climate change.

The proposal includes separate standards for coal and natural gas plants. New large natural gas-fired power plants will be forced to limit carbon dioxide emissions to 1,000 pounds per megawatt hour. Smaller natural gas-fired power plants will be allowed to emit 1,100 pounds of carbon emissions per megawatt hour.

New coal-fired plants will either have to limit carbon emissions to 1,100 pounds per megawatt hour, or will have 7 years to reduce average carbon emissions to 1,050 pounds per megawatt hour.

Due to the fact that natural gas is a much cleaner-burning fuel than coal, natural gas plants will have little trouble meeting the emissions standards. Many natural gas plants emit fewer than 900 pounds of carbon emissions per kilowatt hour already. Coal-fired plants, on the other hand, emit closer to 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour, meaning coal plants will have to cut their emissions nearly in half. To do so, new coal-fired plants will rely on carbon capture and sequestration technology—something the EPA has vowed to help fund.

In her remarks about the plan, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy also mentioned the forthcoming plan to limit carbon emissions from existing power plants. She offered little detail about the proposal—due out in June 2014.

Here are some highlights from Gina McCarthy’s speech:

“We know climate change and protecting our kids from harmful pollution can’t be solved overnight. It’s going to take a broad, concerted effort from all levels of government and the private sector – as well as the international community. But make no mistake about it, EPA’s action today to address carbon pollution from new power plants is an important step forward in our clean energy journey. It’s a necessary step to address a public health challenge that we cannot afford to avoid any longer.”

“Forty years of Clean Air Act history proves we can reduce pollution while at the same time creating jobs and strengthening the economy. 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 technologies, we’ve used science, we’ve used research and development and discovery to make these old rules obsolete. Here in the United States, we have the know how, the skill, and the ingenuity we need to take on climate change. We can, and must, turn this public health and environmental challenge into an economic opportunity. As the President has reminded us, all we need is the courage to act. For me, to muster that courage, all I have to do is look into the faces of my three precious children – Daniel, Maggie, and Julie. In the end, that’s what it’s all about. Our obligation to leave our children a world that’s as healthy and safe as the world we inherited.”