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It's Time to Cut Carbon Pollution from Power Plants, Here's How We Do It

Frances Beinecke

Posted December 4, 2012

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Click here to take actionNRDC experts unveiled a groundbreaking proposal today that will confront the threat of climate change and make our air safer to breathe. It calls for cutting carbon pollution from existing power plants—our nation’s largest source of global warming pollution—and giving each state broad flexibility to meet the standards.

And because it draws on the Environmental Protection Agency’s existing authority under the Clean Air Act, America can start moving down a cleaner, more stable path right now.

We certainly can’t afford to wait any longer. A new study released this week reported that global emissions of carbon pollution hit record highs last year and will probably spike again in 2012. We are already seeing the effects of excessive carbon levels in our communities.

Weeks after Hurricane Sandy slammed into the East Coast, thousands of residents are still coming to grips with flooded buildings and hefty cleanup costs. They aren’t the only ones picking up the pieces after extreme weather this year. Farmers across the country had to plow under crops during the worst drought in 50 years. Hundreds of Western families were left homeless after devastating fires tore through their communities. And residents from Illinois to Virginia were blasted by a freak wind storm that left 23 dead and 1.4 million people without power.

Cities and states are starting to plan for this new climate reality in mind. But simply waiting for the next bout of extreme weather is not enough. We have to tackle the problem at its source. America is known for facing challenges head on and solving them with action, resourcefulness, and innovation. We must do the same with the climate crisis.

The American people agree. The majority of voters in swing states said they preferred leaders who support EPA effort to reduce carbon pollution, according to a September survey by Public Policy Polling. It’s time for President Obama to build on this support and make carbon reduction a top priority for his administration.

The good news is he can do it using existing authority. The Obama Administration already used the Clean Air Act to set carbon standards for cars and propose them for new power plants. Now the same law can be used to address carbon pollution from existing plants, and NRDC has mapped out a plan for doing that.

Using the same sophisticated planning model used by industry and the EPA, NRDC calculated that our plan would cut carbon pollution 26 percent by 2020. It would also generate an estimated $25 billion to $60 billion in health and climate benefits, far outstripping the projected cost of $4 billion in 2020.

The enormous savings inherent in the plan have already garnered positive reviews. William Reilly, the EPA Administrator under President George H.W. Bush and senior advisor to TPG Capital said of NRDC’s plan: “This is an imaginative proposal that addresses some real needs. It deserves to be carefully analyzed and taken seriously by all the affected interests.”  

Here‘s how our plan would work.  The EPA would set state-specific limits on carbon pollution that reflect the fact that some states depend heavily on high-carbon energy sources like coal-fired power plants, while others rely more on cleaner cleaner-burning natural gas and renewable resources like wind and solar. It would then give states a wide range of affordable ways to meet their goal. Our analysis shows that the most cost-effective way would be through energy efficiency.

Energy efficiency is a win-win for consumers and utilities alike. Things like high-performance windows and better insulated buildings cut down on the amount of energy we use—and the need to build costly and polluting power plants. They can also save homeowners more than $700 a year, about one-third of the average annual utility bill. This makes energy efficiency one of the cheapest and fastest ways for states to achieve their carbon reduction targets.

Shifting away from dirty energy sources will also improve our health. If we cut down on the amount of coal-fired power we use, we will reduce the amount of sulfur and nitrogen oxides we breathe. Modeling shows that the NRDC plan would prevent more than 23,000 asthma attacks and thousands of premature deaths.

The benefits of reducing harmful pollution would be as much as 15 times greater than the costs.

NRDC has demonstrated that America can slash our carbon pollution, shield our communities from the ravages of climate change, protect our families’ health, and save money at the same time. In the 2012 election, the majority of Americans made it clear they want to realize these benefits. NRDC has offered a plan to do just that.

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mememineDec 4 2012 02:36 PM

Science can't just keep saying the worst crisis imaginable; a climate crisis "might" happen instead of "will" happen and at the same time say we "could" be at the brink of no return?
Not one single IPCC warning is without "mabyes".
Help my house could be on fire maybe?
It wasn't a science crime to exaggerate, at least not yet.
Meanwhile, the entire world of SCIENCE, lazy copy and paste news editors and obedient journalists, had condemned our kids to the greenhouse gas ovens of an exaggerated "crisis" and had allowed bank-funded and corporate-run “CARBON TRADING STOCK MARKETS” to trump 3rd world fresh water relief, starvation rescue and 3rd world education for just over 26 years of insane attempts at climate CONTROL.

Mary SweeneyDec 4 2012 02:42 PM

Ms. Beinecke says that "Shifting away from dirty energy sources will also improve our health." Unfortunately, shifting to "clean" natural gas will not be very healthy for those who are forced to live in areas with extensive drilling and fracking operations. In NY, the proposed regulations would allow gas wells to be sited just 500 feet from homes. Would Ms. Beinecke care to live 500 feet from a fracked shale gas well?

Michael BerndtsonDec 4 2012 03:41 PM

I'm confused. So North Dakota could belch CO2 from power generation by burning lignite (soft coal) and eventually switch to natural gas when the spirit moves them? How is this not different from solutions offered by the states rights camp - like PERC and the other freedom(TM) loving environmental capitalists? My main concern is that the cost of pollution control upgrades or efficiency measures doesn't fall into the current deregulated market model. The companies making big money aren't the owners of the generating plants or transmission. Mostly marketing and sales firms, where efficiency isn't in the interest of their share holders.

I have a bone to pick with NRDC. Statements like the following always give me the willies:

"Using the same sophisticated planning model used by industry and the EPA, NRDC calculated that our plan would cut carbon pollution 26 percent by 2020."

Having worked in the environmental business for years there was always a "sophisticated model" for things like liability transfer of contaminated properties or risk based corrective action, where the subsurface contamination would simply get "risked away" and cleanup wouldn't be necessary. Wall Street did the same kind of marketing with its "Quants," who's sophisticated models would change the world of real estate with bundled mortgages and statistics.

James. A. Singmaster, Ph.D.Dec 5 2012 11:35 AM

I have sent many e-mails on the energy and environmental pollution problem to NRDC stating that for OUR CHULDREN TO HAVE FUTURE, WE HAVE TO MAKE THE SUN OUR SOLE ENERGY SOURCE!!!!!!!!!!
I have sent NRDC Staff many statements outlining how to this. IT is time for NRDC to stop calling for stopping this and curbing that and start talking about how we can MAKE THE SUN OUR SOLE ENERGY SOURCE. Dr. J. Singmaster

Dennis BakerDec 5 2012 02:05 PM

In my opinion

We need to replace the fossil fuel power plants, the primary source of GHG. Now!

At a scale required to accomplish this task :

Ethanol starves people : not a viable option.

Fracking releases methane : not a viable option.

Cellulose Bio Fuel Uses Food Land : not a viable option

Solar uses food land : Not a viable option

Wind is Intermittent : Not a viable option

All Human and Agricultural Organic Waste can be converted to hydrogen, through exposure intense radiation!

The Radioactive Materials exist now, and the Organic waste is renewable daily.

Ending the practice of dumping sewage into our water sources.

Air, Water, Food and Energy issues, receive significant positive impacts .

Reducing illness / health care costs as well !

Dennis Baker
* Creston Avenue
Penticton BC V2A1P9
cell phone 250-462-3796
Phone / Fax 778-476-2633

Nancy McFaddenDec 5 2012 07:45 PM

To Frances Beinecke - I note that
you are on the board of the Meridian Institute. They work to promote gmos, genetically modified organisms. They take money from the Gates Foundation. Since you are on their board, does that mean you are also one who promotes gmos? The Union of Concerned Scientists recently brought out a report showing that gmos do not increase
crop yield. I have belonged to NRDC
in the past so I have given you $.

JanDec 5 2012 08:10 PM

Cutting down carbon emission is not just a task for countries. We all need to cut down our own carbon footprints.

Sid AbmaDec 6 2012 07:30 PM

Natural gas can be consumed so much more efficiently than is done today.
Natural gas fired power plants could be operating at near 100% energy efficiency.

The heat energy from the HOT exhaust can be recovered with the technology of Condensing Flue Gas Heat Recovery.
This recovered heat can be used for a number of purposes.
One would be to heat hundreds of acres of algae ponds, with the algae being harvested for bio fuels.
The cooled exhaust gases would be pumped in to these algae ponds, providing the algae with CO2 (fertilizer).
These algae plants absorb the CO2 and through the process of photosynthesis OXYGEN is returned back into the atmosphere.
The WATER being created during this heat recovery process would be used to make up for evaporation.
Near Zero Waste Power Plant.

If this were to be done all across the country how much HOT exhaust would Not be blown into the atmosphere?
How much CO2 Not being put into the atmosphere?
How many barrels of bio fuels would be created, eliminating off shore oil?

There are ways to make America more energy efficient, but if these opportunities are not grasped, to really make a difference, we all lose.

Debra CarpenterDec 7 2012 09:47 AM

I think a lot of folks are missing an important point - this is not a plan for the future, but for now. We have to start somewhere, and aim for immediate gain while still planning for the future. This ship is too large to make a sudden U-turn. There will never one silver bullet solution to modern society's gluttonous energy needs. We will have to use solar in the Southwest, wind in the Midwest, and alternative fuels everywhere. Of course we should use our waste to produce energy. Let's not assume that the current model of large centralized energy production plants is the most efficient. Energy production at the source of the need would eliminate a lot of the inefficiencies inherent in the system.

James Singmaster, III, Ph.D.Dec 11 2012 06:19 AM

Again Only one action will be viable FOR HUMAN SURVIVAL, and that is to MAKE THE SUN OUR SOLE ENERGY SOURCE. I have posted several comments on this blog and sent many NRDC staff copies of a statement on how to take such action. Dr. J. Singmaster

Comments are closed for this post.


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