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Carbon Standards Should Reduce Our Dependence on All Fossil Fuels

Frances Beinecke

Posted June 6, 2014

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Click here to take actionLeaders from across the nation have welcomed the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed limits on carbon pollution from power plants. It’s been inspiring to see the outpouring of support from lawmakers, public health experts, more than 170 American business executives, and even some forward-thinking utilities. They all recognize that carbon limits will help protect our communities from the worst impacts of climate change. 

One misconception, however, has made its way into some media coverage warrants clarification: the impact these standards will on natural gas use in our country.

It seems that some are operating under a false assumption that EPA’s plan to reduce carbon pollution from our nation’s power plants necessarily will mean increased production and consumption of natural gas, particularly as coal use decreases. But make no mistake— these standards are not a green light for increasing gas use in the power sector.

To the contrary, the standards can and should help reduce our country’s dependence on all fossil fuels. In fact, according to EPA’s own initial proposal—which uses conservative assumptions about what efficiency and renewables can do—gas use in the power sector would be 5 percent less in 2030 with the standards than without them.


That’s because carbon pollution standards will create powerful new incentives for states and power companies to comply with the limits by investing in wind, solar and energy efficiency, instead of gas. Compared to today's market structure this actually improves the financial value of these investments relative to natural gas. This is the single most important step the Obama administration could have taken to help reduce our dependence on fossil fuel in the power sector.

The EPA’s proposed carbon pollution standards are just the start of the fight. Over the next year, before EPA sets the final standards, we will be working to strengthen the agency’s conservative assumptions on the carbon reductions achievable through energy efficiency and renewable energy sources. A greater reliance on efficiency and renewables will further reduce projected reliance on both coal and gas. We will also work closely with states and utilities to ensure their implementation plans to meet the carbon pollution standards maximize investment in efficiency and renewables, and do not increase reliance on natural gas.

At the same time, of course, we will continue working to reduce leakage of methane—another potent climate change pollutant—from the natural gas production and delivery system, to cut carbon pollution from other sources, and to protect Americans nationwide from other risks associated with all forms of fossil fuel development.

We can expect that the fossil fuel industry and owners of dirty power plants will not give up easily. But the writing is on the wall. It’s time to end our nation’s untenable dependence on fossil fuels, and the unrestricted dumping of pollution into the atmosphere. Our children’s health and future depend on it.

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A Proud CanadianJun 6 2014 09:28 PM

Quick Question,

What is holding the US back from more aggressive cuts? For example 60% by 2020. More is better right?

A Proud Canadian

Will ReynoldsJun 8 2014 09:46 PM

It's difficult to reconcile the stated goal of ending reliance on fossil fuels with NRDC's support for a bad regulatory law that opened the door to large scale fracking in Illinois. As activists were pushing again for a moratorium or ban on fracking this year, NRDC was nowhere to be found. Instead, NRDC joined other pro-fracking groups that applauded Rahm Emanuel's aggregation deal that switched Chicago to 95% fracked natural gas, an significant INCREASE in the city's fossil fuel consumption. NRDC is still stubbornly defending the bad fracking law as "tough" and "strong" while people in impacted regions roll their eyes at such delusion misjudgments.
NRDC needs to review its environmental justice policy and start supporting people in impacted regions of Illinois who are fighting to stop fracking in their communities. That's the only course of action that will allow us to keep 70% of remaining fossil fuel reserves in the ground and effectively deal with climate change.

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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

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