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EPA Proposes Carbon Emissions Limits on New U.S. Power Plants

Following through on a June 25, 2013 Presidential Memorandum, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on September 20 proposed new, precedent-setting Clean Air Act limits on carbon emissions from new power plants. The proposed rule, which is open for public comment for 60 days upon publication in the Federal Register, marks a milestone in the Obama Administration's broad-based, ongoing efforts to realize the goals expressed in the President's National Climate Change Action Plan.

“Climate change is one of the most significant public health challenges of our time,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy stated in an EPA press release. “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,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said. “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.”

EPA's proposed new limits on power plant carbon emissions

The largest concentrated source of polluting emissions in the country, power plants account for about one-third of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, a point alluded to by McCarthy in an EPA soundbite:
EPA is announcing the first action that we are taking under the President's climate action plan to address the most significant public health challenge of our time, which is climate change. We are announcing proposed regulations that will limit carbon pollution from this country's single largest individual sources -- power plants.

The EPA's proposed new standard would limit carbon emissions from new large natural gas-fired power plants to 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour (MWh) and that from new small natural gas-fired power plants to 1,100 pounds CO2 per MWh.

Coal industry executives have risen up in arms over the new proposals, asserting that President Obama is trying to drive them out of business. Under the proposed new EPA rule, coal-fired power plants would have to limit their carbon emissions to the same 1,000 pounds per MWh as natural gas-fired plants, though the EPA has built in some greater operational flexibility for them by allowing them to meet a “somewhat tighter limit if they choose to average emissions over multiple years.”

According to the EPA,

These proposed standards will ensure that new power plants are built with available clean technology to limit carbon pollution, a requirement that is in line with investments in clean energy technologies that are already being made in the power industry.

“Additionally, these standards provide flexibility by allowing sources to phase in the use of some of these technologies, and they ensure that the power plants of the future use cleaner energy technologies -- such as efficient natural gas, advanced coal technology, nuclear power, and renewable energy like wind and solar.”

Looking ahead, the EPA is moving right along with the intention of proposing carbon emissions standards for existing power plants as well.
“This [September 20] proposal does not impact existing power plants,” Sec. McCarthy continued. “This is all about new power plants. We are going to begin discussions with states today, discussions with stakeholders, with utilities about what we can do to work with them to establish limits on existing power plants.”

As per the President's June 25 Memorandum, the EPA intends to proposed new carbon emissions standards for existing power plants by June 1, 2014.

More information is available on the EPA's Carbon Pollution Standards website.

Andrew Burger headshotAndrew Burger

An experienced, independent journalist, editor and researcher, Andrew has crisscrossed the globe while reporting on sustainability, corporate social responsibility, social and environmental entrepreneurship, renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean technology. He studied geology at CU, Boulder, has an MBA in finance from Pace University, and completed a certificate program in international governance for biodiversity at UN University in Japan.

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