EPA Keeps the Heat on Coal-Fired Plants

Pollution doesn’t pause in election years. The EPA has proposed what will surely add another target for the right to pursue in its attacks on all things EPA: the first Clean Air Act standard for carbon pollution from new power plants.

It’s not exactly the hardest-hitting rule from the agency: The rulemaking proposed this week only concerns new generating units that will be built in the future, and does not apply to existing units already operating or units that will start construction over the next 12 months.

The proposed standard “reflects the ongoing trend in the power sector to build cleaner plants that take advantage of American-made technologies, including new, clean-burning, efficient natural gas generation, which is already the technology of choice for new and planned power plants,” the EPA said. “At the same time, the rule creates a path forward for new technologies to be deployed at future facilities that will allow companies to burn coal, while emitting less carbon pollution.”

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson called the proposal a “common sense step” to reduce air pollution. “Right now there are no limits to the amount of carbon pollution that future power plants will be able to put into our skies – and the health and economic threats of a changing climate continue to grow.”

The proposed rule is a direct result of a Supreme Court 2007 ruling that enabled the EPA to determine that greenhouse gas pollution threatens Americans’ health and welfare by leading to long-term changes in climate.

The rule also comes just days after a Supreme Court ruling against the EPA that may or may not be a setback for clean water and development on federal wetlands. While it’s a somewhat narrow issue involving the right to challenge EPA compliance orders, it does open the door for extensive and costly litigation in this area.

Under the Carbon Pollution Standard for New Power Plants, new fossil-fuel-fired power plants must emit no more than 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour. EPA says the proposed standards can be met by a range of power facilities burning different fossil fuels, including natural gas technologies that are already widespread, as well as coal with technologies to reduce carbon emissions. EPA did not project additional industry costs for compliance.

Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, applauded the EPA action, saying that the standards “mean that business as usual for the nation’s biggest sources of carbon pollution, dirty coal-burning utilities, is over.

“Most of all, these carbon pollution protections mark the end of an era for antiquated, dirty coal plants and continue the momentum behind clean energy to ensure healthier kids, families and workers, as well as much-needed job creation and a more secure climate future.”

KC Golden, Policy Director for Climate Solutions added that climate policy “boils down to a simple question: will we put responsible limits on the pollution that causes climate disruption?  When we do, we unleash unlimited potential to innovate, invest, and build a new, more secure energy economy.” Golden said the proposal builds on successful laws in California, Oregon, and Washington that prevent the construction of conventional new coal plants and catalyze the transition from coal to clean energy. “The days of free, unlimited carbon dumping are coming to a close, and not a minute too soon.”

Not everyone on the left side of the environmental debate was quite so enthusiastic. The left-leaning activist and networking group Credo action questioned whether the carbon pollution standard goes far enough. “[It] applies only to unlikely-to-be-built, new coal-fired power plants. It is riddled with loopholes allowing new sources of pollution including some new coal plants. It does nothing to reduce carbon pollution from much more significant existing sources.

“It is not only disappointing but profoundly dangerous that this rule does little if anything to effectively reduce unregulated climate pollution.”

Maybe it doesn’t go far enough for the coal-free advocates, but it may be as much as can be done right now given the toxic political environment in which we reside.

[Image: Marshall Steam Station by Duke Energy via Flickr cc]

writer, editor, reader and general good (ok mostly good, well sometimes good) guy trying to get by

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