Up in smoke? EPA unveils new power plant emissions requirements

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line contributing writer | 6/2/2014

The Environmental Protection Agency unveiled new restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. power plants on Monday. The move ensures that climate change and the environment are key tenets of President Obama’s second term.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy announced new requirements that power plants must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels by the year 2030.  The 645-page rule sets up a system in which each state can determine how to meet state-specific targets set by EPA.

Among alternatives to coal-fired power plants, states can examine nuclear, wind and solar options to meet their targets. States may obtain a delay until June 30, 2017, in order to approve state legislation and other mechanisms needed to meet the rule. If states band together, they can be part of a multistate plan and obtain a two-year extension to meet the rule by June 30, 2018.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all solution,” McCarthy said during a news conference. “Each state’s goal is tailored to its own circumstances, and states have the flexibility to reach their goal in whatever works best for them.”

EPA will accept public comment on the proposal for 120 days after publication in the Federal Register. During the week of July 28, EPA will hold public hearings in Denver, Atlanta, Washington DC and Pittsburgh.

The rule is scheduled to be finalized in June 2015.

Power plants emit about one third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., according to the EPA. The federal government limits arsenic, mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particle pollutions from power plants. It hasn’t enforced carbon pollution levels.

Monday’s announcement carried the feel of a campaign event. McCarthy walked into a standing ovation and hoots and hollers. 

The EPA Administrator referenced children often in her address, and said the government has a responsibility to improve the environment and will “build a world-leading clean energy economy.”

“That’s why EPA exists,” she said. “That’s our job. … If we do nothing, in our grandkids’ lifetimes temperatures could rise 10 degrees.”
Several minutes of Monday’s half-hour announcement were devoted to countering attacks of critics of the EPA who have warned the new rules will boost home electrical bills and hurt the economy.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently estimated the rule would cost consumers $50 billion annually.

McCarthy said the EPA has cut emissions by 70 percent over the last four decades while the economy has tripled in size. The new rule will include “small fluctuations” in electric prices that McCarthy said would equal a gallon of milk per month.

“They’re wrong,” McCarthy said of those who predicted utility bill increases. “Shall I say that again? They’re wrong. … The most costly thing we can do is to do nothing.”

Later, the EPA administrator appealed to American ingenuity as a way to both reduce emissions and grow the economy.

“Climate action doesn’t actually dull America’s competitive edge,” she said. “It sharpens it.”

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