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Cleaner Power Starts Today: EPA Proposes Carbon Pollution Standard for New Power Plants

David Doniger

Posted March 27, 2012 in Curbing Pollution, Health and the Environment, Solving Global Warming

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The Environmental Protection Agency took another important step forward today to protect Americans’ health and well-being from the carbon pollution that is driving dangerous climate change. 

Today EPA proposed the first national limits on carbon dioxide emissions from new electric power plants. 

Doctors, nurses, scientists, and other experts tell us that carbon pollution imposes staggering health costs.  It causes more severe heat waves and worsens smog pollution, which triggers more asthma attacks and other serious respiratory illnesses.  It contributes to increasingly extreme weather, including more devastating storms and floods, rising sea levels, and many other threats to life, limb, and property.  See what EPA and the nation’s top public health organizations say, here and here

Power plants are the nation’s largest source of dangerous carbon pollution.  More than 1500 power plants across the country release a whopping 2.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air each year.  (Check out how much pollution comes from your nearby power plants, here.)  

The Clean Air Act requires EPA to set standards that assure new power plants are as clean as can be, and to start cutting dangerous carbon pollution from the existing fleet of power plants too.  The Supreme Court found that it’s EPA’s job under the Clean Air Act to curb power plants’ carbon pollution.  Two years ago, EPA agreed to enforce these legal requirements by setting standards for both new and existing plants.   

The “new source performance standard” proposed today is a critical step towards cleaning up and modernizing our power plant fleet.  Each new plant will need to meet a specified emissions rate -- 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour of electricity produced -- that is technically feasible and economically reasonable. The next step will be to set standards to cut carbon pollution from the aging fleet of existing plants.

America’s power companies have the tools they need to meet the standard announced today.  The Department of Energy, utility executives, and industry analysts all forecast that the nation’s needs for new electricity supplies over the next decade will be met by a combination of natural gas plants, renewables such as wind and solar, and possibly nuclear energy – all of which can meet the standard. 

Power companies also can meet this standard with coal-fired plants that use carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.  A few years ago, it looked like there would be a boom in new coal plant construction.  But nearly all of those proposals died on the drawing boards.  Today’s utility companies will tell you that they aren’t planning to build new coal plants, largely due to the availability of low-cost natural gas, strong growth in wind and solar power, and big opportunities to improve energy efficiency.  The new standard reinforces what most power company executives and investors already understand – that carbon pollution and climate change are serious concerns, and that if and when new coal plants make a comeback, they will need to be designed with CCS. 

The standard proposed today is another important step that EPA has taken under President Obama to clean up and modernize the nation’s two most polluting sectors – the power plants that provide our electricity, and the motor vehicles that move us around. 

Today’s action, of course, is only a proposal and not yet a sure thing.  Factions of the coal and power industries, together with climate-change-denier groups and ultra-conservative politicians, will try to derail EPA’s new standard.  So it’s critical that concerned citizens step up to voice their support for cleaning up power plants, in the public comment period and public hearings later this Spring. 

You can click here to send EPA a message of support.  Tell EPA that you support its standards to cut the carbon pollution from America’s new power plants.  And urge EPA to act swiftly to cut the dangerous carbon pollution coming from our existing power plants too.

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Comments

klem klemmererMar 27 2012 12:09 PM

"Today EPA is expected to propose the first national limits on carbon dioxide emissions from new electric power plants."

This sounds funny. In order to meet the standards wouldn't a company merely build numerous smaller power plants rather than one big one, thereby meeting the emissions standards for the new power plants?

I think I can see ways around the new rules already.

David DonigerMar 27 2012 03:29 PM

Klem, the new standards will cover all power plants bigger than 25 MW capacity. Building polluting plants smaller than that is not an effective strategem.

Comments are closed for this post.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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