Daily Dispatches
The coal-fired Plant Scherer in Juliette, Ga.
Associated Press/Photo by John Amis
The coal-fired Plant Scherer in Juliette, Ga.

Obama caps power plant emissions with new EPA rules

Environment

The Obama administration announced a 645-page environmental plan today that would set the first national limits on carbon dioxide. Under rules proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency and scheduled to be finalized next year, power plants will have to cut carbon dioxide emissions 30 percent by 2030. All 50 states will be responsible for tackling their own emissions under customized plans that will have to be approved by the EPA.

Al Gore, the outspoken environmentalist and former vice president, is calling the plan “the most important step taken to combat the climate crisis in our country’s history.”

In setting the ambitious carbon standard, President Barack Obama is bypassing Congress to further his overall agenda of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to curb global warming. The move will boost the president’s legacy as an environmental advocate, although the carbon cuts themselves—about 800 million tons of CO2—will do little to impact global temperature, experts say.

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The energy industry has already cut emissions by almost 13 percent since 2005, the baseline year from which the new reduction targets will be calculated. States will have to meet the 30 percent goal within 16 years, although some states will ultimately be allowed to emit more than others.

“The glue that holds this plan together—and the key to making it work—is that each state’s goal is tailored to its own circumstances, and states have the flexibility to reach their goal in whatever way works best for them,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in a statement ahead of Monday’s formal announcement.

The EPA said the plan’s carbon reduction is equal to the emissions from powering over half of the homes in the United States for year. The agency will give states a range of options for reducing their emissions. The electricity industry could install technology to increase efficiency, reduce the use of coal-fired plants, or use more renewable energy sources. States can invest in programs to make homes and businesses more energy efficient. But each of these actions will come with an economic cost.

As news of the EPA announcement became public over the weekend, experts said reaching the 30 percent reduction target would be difficult in light of environmental rules that have already made traditional coal power production expensive. “Today’s proposal from the EPA could singlehandedly eliminate this competitive advantage by removing reliable and abundant sources of energy from our nation’s energy mix,” Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, said in a statement issued Sunday.

“If these rules are allowed to go into effect, the administration for all intents and purposes is creating America’s next energy crisis,” said Mike Duncan of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. Coal once supplied half of the United States’ electricity, but has dropped to about 40 percent because of regulations and the abundance of natural gas.

The EPA determined in 2009 that it could regulate carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas “pollutant” under the 1970 Clean Air Act, but the process of crafting a plan for doing so, along with political considerations, including the 2012 campaign, has delayed the Obama administration until now.

Power plants are the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, a country that is the second largest carbon emitter in the world, behind China. Obama has already introduced fuel economy rules for cars and trucks, which are expected to reduce carbon emissions by 2 billion tons over the lifetime of new vehicles.

In a statement Monday, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called the plan “a dagger in the heart of the American middle class.” McConnell, a Republican from the coal state of Kentucky, said he would introduce legislation this week to stop the EPA plan from taking effect, although such a bill is unlikely to get traction in the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats.

“The fact that the president plans to do all this through an end-run around Congress only highlights his contempt for the wishes of the public and a system of government that was devised precisely to restrain an action like today’s,” McConnell said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Daniel James Devine
Daniel James Devine

Daniel is a reporter for WORLD who covers science, technology, and other topics in the Midwest from his home base in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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