Environment
2:42 pm
Tue January 7, 2014

EPA Carbon Limits on New Power Plants Expected Tomorrow

The Environmental Protection Agency is scheduled to formally publish tomorrow a proposal to limit greenhouse gas emissions—namely, carbon dioxide—from power plants.

The agency first announced the proposal in April 2012, but revised that proposal in September 2012. This newest version of the regulation contains the same limits as that proposal: emissions from new coal-fired power plants would be limited to 1100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour, though there’s an option to average emissions over several years if the facility agrees to a tighter limit. Smaller natural gas plants will also be restricted to 1100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour, and large natural gas plants will be limited to 1000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour. These restrictions are part of President Obama’s climate action plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow climate change.

The regulation has been panned by the coal industry, which argues it will essentially ban all new coal-fired power plants in the nation. National Mining Association CEO Hal Quinn was among the first to release a statement today on the proposed regulations, saying:

“This EPA regulation is a big step backwards for supplying America affordable and reliable power from the cleanest coal-based power systems commercially available.  The proposal effectively bans coal from America's power portfolio by conditioning new power generation on the use of unproven technologies. Forcing America to abandon its largest and most reliable energy source is a reckless gamble with the nation's economy. A more expensive and less diverse electricity supply will only stand in the way of economic growth and job creation.”

The new limits will mean that any new coal-fired power plant would probably have to incorporate carbon capture and sequestration technology, which hasn’t been economically deployed on a commercial scale. But as Tom FitzGerald of the Kentucky Resources Council pointed out last June, there’s a cost to not implementing the regulations, too. Someone will bear the burdens of pollution and climate change, whether it’s ratepayers, the coal industry or people downstream.

“Now, the flip side is, do we just do nothing?” he asked. “...Because the National Research Council, the National Academy of Science, the Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force, recognizes that each year we delay means more significant and catastrophic weather events, means more drought and more heat waves, means more disruption of agriculture, challenges in every single sector. And those, in fact, are costs that are being borne in many cases by people who aren’t in a position to protect themselves from those costs. So doing nothing is not an option.”

The EPA has won several court decisions challenging whether the agency has the right to place limits on greenhouse gas emissions. It was given the power in 2008, when the Supreme Court found that greenhouse gases posed a danger to human health. Most recently, a court of appeals ruled that carbon emissions from vehicles and power plants were fair game for regulation.

The EPA says the greenhouse gas proposal for new power plants took the more than 2.5 million public comments the agency received into account; when the rule is published tomorrow, another 60 day comment period will begin. The agency is expected to propose carbon dioxide regulations for existing power plants in June.

Read the latest version of the regulation here.