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EPA Power Plant Rules Could Cut Carbon Pollution More Than Expected


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s impending carbon rules for existing power plants could achieve even greater reductions than previously thought — and at less cost, according to a new analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The rules are expected by many to be modeled after those promulgated by NRDC in December 2012, which would have EPA set carbon limits for each state based on its current fuel mix, and states and power companies would get maximum flexibility to meet the targets in the most cost-effective way, using steps such as improved energy efficiency -- not just actions that can be taken at individual power plants.

NRDC’s new analysis shows that 470 to 700 million tons of carbon pollution can be eliminated per year in 2020 compared to 2012 levels, equivalent to the emissions from 95 to 130 million cars. By comparison, NRDC's 2012 analysis put those numbers at 270 million tons.

At the same time, the plan would yield $28 billion to $63 billion in medical and environmental benefits that far outweigh the costs of putting first-ever limits on carbon pollution, NRDC says. More than 17,000 asthma attacks and more than 1,000 emergency room visits could be prevented each year, while also preventing thousands of premature deaths by 2020.

NRDC calculated these improved outcomes after updating its 2012 model to reflect recent trends in the electricity industry, including lower electricity demand than previously expected and reduced costs for wind turbines and natural gas.

The updated analysis also outlines several ways to achieve significant carbon reductions from power plants with additional scenarios not considered in the 2012 report. They include the impact of multiple scenarios by 2020: if less energy efficiency is adopted by the states; if more ambitious targets are set for carbon emissions; if more ambitious targets are coupled with less energy efficiency; if carbon capture and storage is deployed to reduce emissions; and the combination of ambitious standards, less efficiency than in NRDC’s 2012 plan and extension of the federal wind Production Tax Credit to 2020.

Under these approaches, the U.S. could lower consumers’ electricity bills while cutting power plant carbon pollution by 21 to 31 percent in 2020, and by 25 to 36 percent by 2025, compared to 2012 levels of pollution. They also could stimulate investments of $52 billion to $121 billion in cost-effective energy efficiency and renewable energy between now and 2020, boosting local and state economies.

“As we did in 2012, we are upending conventional wisdom. Not only is it possible to use the Clean Air Act to reduce power plant carbon pollution significantly and cost-effectively, there are many pathways to do so that do not require increasing our reliance on natural gas,” said Daniel Lashof, director of the Climate and Clean Air Program at NRDC.

“The impact could be enormous: We could eliminate hundreds of millions of tons of carbon pollution, save thousands of lives and stimulate a surge in clean energy and energy efficiency investments,” Lashof added, “and all at a lower cost than many would imagine. Now is the time to go after the carbon pollution that jeopardizes our children and future generations.”

Not everyone is happy about the EPA’s forthcoming rules, especially some in the coal industry. Last fall, nearly 3,000 miners and workers from across the coal industry assembled in Washington, D.C. to protest what they claim to be President Barack Obama’s “War on Coal."

President Obama put climate change on the nation’s agenda in his second inaugural address, and followed up by announcing a national climate action plan last June. Its centerpiece aims to limit the largest source of carbon pollution in the United States -- emissions from power plants.

Last September, the EPA proposed the first standards to curb carbon pollution from future power plants, and is scheduled to roll out proposed standards for the country’s roughly 1,000 existing power plants by June 1, 2014.

Image Credit: Flickr Thure Johnson

Based in San Francisco, Mike Hower is a writer, thinker and strategic communicator that revels in driving the conversation at the intersection of sustainability, social entrepreneurship, tech, politics and law. He has cultivated diverse experience working for the United States Congress in Washington, D.C., helping Silicon Valley startups with strategic communications and teaching in South America. Connect with him on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter (@mikehower)

Mike Hower headshotMike Hower

Currently based in Washington, D.C, <strong>Mike Hower</strong> is a new media journalist and strategic communication professional focused on helping to drive the conversation at the intersection of sustainable business and public policy. To learn more about Mike, visit his blog,<a href="http://climatalk.com/&quot; > ClimaTalk</a>.

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