The head of the Environmental Protection Agency announced on June 2 the first ever proposal to cut carbon dioxide emissions from U.S. coal-fired power plants. The proposal would require state and local governments to develop plans by June 2016 that would result in 30% less CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants in 2030 than were emitted in 2005.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy underscored a host of health benefits she said would spring from the CO2 reductions. Most were directly related to climate change and global warming, such as slowing sea-level rise and forestalling higher global temperatures. She also pointed to other pollution gains, including fewer emissions of particulate matter, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide, which are also generated by burning coal for electricity.
The proposal would cut overall U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 9% by 2030 and is part of President Barack Obama’s plan to address climate change, which was announced a year ago. The Administration also has proposed CO2 emission goals for new coal fired power plants.
Obama stressed the health benefits of the proposal at a briefing organized by the American Lung Association. “We are making these reductions for the sake of our children,” he said. “This is something that is important to all of us as parents, grandparents, citizens, and folks who care about future generations.” Obama predicted a “heated debate in Washington” over the proposal “with lots of efforts to put out misinformation and to make spin overwhelm substance and public relations overwhelm science.”
Under the proposal, each state would identify a pathway that would allow it to meet an EPA-set reduction goal for CO2 emissions. States can choose a set of options to reduce CO2 emissions, that include shifting away from coal to natural gas or to other electricity sources or reducing coal use through energy efficiency, McCarthy said.
States also could band together with options such as carbon trading, she added.
McCarthy stressed that the proposal allows flexibility in how states design plans. This could encourage entrepreneurs and investors to step in and unleash market forces to “spur cleaner power and all sorts of new low-carbon technologies,” she said.
Within an hour of the EPA announcement, Republican leaders of the House Energy & Commerce Committee blasted the proposal and set a hearing on the plan for June 16. Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) predicted the President’s plan would cause electricity rates to skyrocket and send manufacturing jobs overseas, hamstringing U.S. economic recovery.
He was joined in criticizing the plan by the National Association of Manufacturers and other industrial organizations. A coalition led by NAM and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce predicted that the proposal would make U.S. electricity “less diverse, less reliable, and more expensive” and lead to substantial closures of existing coal-fired power plants with devastating impact on jobs and the economy.
The American Chemistry Council warned that some parts of the country could see higher energy prices, which would harm manufacturing. However, the chemical industry trade association also welcomed the flexibility the Administration offered to states to design plans. ACC was also pleased with the emphasis on energy efficiency, which, it said, “is one of the most cost-effective ways to achieve emissions reductions.”
The National Association of Clean Air Agencies, an organization of state and local air regulators, applauded the proposal as well as the year-long “unprecedented level of stakeholder discussion,” that brought it about, according to Executive Director S. William Becker. The proposal would require “a heavy lift” by state and local governments, Becker continued. But it would provide them with flexibility and time to develop strategies as well as credit for past actions to cut emissions.
The proposal would affect about 1,000 power stations now operating in the U.S, according to EPA. The U.S. has an aging coal-fired fleet with an average age of 42 years and many plants more than a half-century old. Coal units provide the largest share of U.S. electricity at about 39%. They also generate about 30% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to EPA.