Environment

The Environmental Protection Agency has finalized the nation’s first regulations on carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. President Obama is scheduled to announce the new rules on Monday afternoon.

The Clean Power Plan has been several years in the making, and is one of the linchpins of Obama’s efforts to slow climate change. Greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide are emitted from burning fossil fuels, and are increasing the rate at which the planet is warming.

All fossil fuels release CO2, but coal-fired power plants emit nearly twice as much carbon dioxide as natural gas. Because of that, the regulations will disproportionately affect the beleaguered coal industry, which has already seen its market share decline because of market and regulatory factors.

Even without the stricter regulations, in Kentucky, a third of the state’s coal plants operating in 2011 have already retired, or will retire by 2020. Another dozen will likely retire by 2030, as the plants reach the end of their useful lifespan. And stricter regulations on new power plants mean utilities likely won’t replace them with coal-fired units.

In the final version of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, states have two more years to meet the rule’s first benchmark. But the regulation is tougher than the draft: Overall, power plants across the country will have to cut emissions by 32 percent by 2030, up from 30 percent in the proposal. Each state also has an individual target to meet.

In the initial proposal, Kentucky’s target was an 18 percent reduction in emissions by 2030, with an interim goal of 15 percent by 2020. And the state is already in a position to meet the near-term reduction without even trying.

The Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet’s own calculations suggest that taking the state’s numerous coal-fired power plant retirements into account, Kentucky is on track to emit 73.8 million tons of CO2 in 2020 from the utility sector. That’s below the short-term goal of 94.7 million tons of CO2 from new and existing sources set out in the proposed regulations.

The EPA will require states to submit individual plans for meeting carbon reductions by September 2016, though the agency has said extensions to this deadline are an option. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has called on states to resist, though few states have heeded his suggestion. Under the proposal, states that don’t craft individual plans will be subject to a federal blanket plan which could require steeper cuts.

Under Governor Steve Beshear, Kentucky regulators have been working on creating a state plan to hand over to the next governor’s administration in December. But both gubernatorial frontrunners—Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway and Republican businessman Matt Bevin—have said they will not submit a compliance plan to the EPA. Conway joined several other states in filing a lawsuit over the proposed regulations; in June, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the EPA, after judges deemed the lawsuit was premature before the regulation was finalized.

There’s more on the final version of the regulation here, though more details will be released on Monday afternoon.

The Obama Administration has stressed the health benefits of cutting carbon pollution (a fact sheet notes the rule will avoid up to 3,600 premature deaths, lead to 90,000 fewer asthma attacks in children, and prevent 300,000 missed work and school days) and the economic benefits (create tens of thousands of jobs, spur renewable energy research). But the coal and manufacturing industries have been outspoken opponents, arguing the regulations will raise electricity bills and hurt economic progress.

Erica Peterson is WFPL's Director of News and Programming.