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Curbing Carbon Dioxide

Greenhouse Gases: EPA proposal would limit emissions from power plants built after 2012

by Cheryl Hogue
April 2, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 14

Credit: Shutterstock
Proposed regulation would likely cause a shift to natural-gas-fired power plants.
Gas fired power plant with grass in the foreground.
Credit: Shutterstock
Proposed regulation would likely cause a shift to natural-gas-fired power plants.

Power plants built after this year would have to limit their carbon dioxide emissions under a proposed regulation unveiled by EPA last week.

EPA made the move after determining in 2009 that greenhouse gas emissions—notably CO2—threaten health and welfare by adding to human-induced climate change. It marks EPA’s first proposal to regulate a greenhouse gas under the Clean Air Act.

Under the proposal, newly built plants would be required to emit no more than 1,000 lb of CO2 per megawatt hour. EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson says current technology for natural gas combined-cycle units would be able to meet this standard.

The proposal allows for construction of new coal-fired power plants while it creates incentives for new technologies to capture and store CO2, Jackson says. New coal-fired facilities could meet the 1,000-lb/MWh standard by averaging their emissions over 30 years. Plants could exceed the limit early on and then, as CO2-capture technologies come on-line, get emissions below the limit in later years.

Congressional Republicans attacked EPA’s proposal, saying it is equivalent to a tax on energy. Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), the top Republican on the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works, vowed to stop EPA from finalizing the proposal.

Industry groups are assailing the proposal too. It is “designed to place an indefinite ban on the construction of conventional coal-fired power plants in America,” says R. Bruce Josten of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The proposal might promote a greater shift to natural-gas-fired power plants, creating increased demand for a key raw material for chemical manufacturers. However, the American Chemistry Council, an industry association, offered no comment on EPA’s proposal.

Environmental and health groups are praising EPA’s move. Union of Concerned Scientists’ President Kevin Knobloch calls it “a historic step to trim carbon emissions and help create a cleaner, healthier, and more modern energy future.” But, he adds, EPA also needs to address the main source of CO2 emissions from the power sector—existing coal-fired plants.



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