Climate Solutions

U.S. Sets First Limits on Carbon Emissions from Power Plants

For the first time ever the EPA is imposing greenhouse gas emissions limits on power plants, the largest driver of climate change.

John E. Amos coal-fired power plant, Winfield, West Virginia. Photo: Daniel Shea
For the first time ever the EPA is imposing greenhouse gas emissions limits on power plants, the largest source of climate change-driving carbon dioxide.
The proposed rule only concerns new plants, and wouldn’t apply to those that break ground over the next 12 months. It would allow for “clean-burning, efficient natural gas generation,” the EPA said in a statement. But it takes aim at coal: the rule could effectively end the construction of new, conventional coal-fired facilities (though companies that employ carbon capture and storage technology could meet the standard).
About 42 percent of U.S. electricity came from coal in 2011, and the power sector accounts for some 40 percent of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions.
“Right now there are no limits to the amount of carbon pollution that future power plants will be able to put into our skies—and the health and economic threats of a changing climate continue to grow,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “Today we’re taking a common-sense step to reduce pollution in our air, protect the planet for our children, and move us into a new era of American energy.”
The agency is proposing the new rule under the Clean Air Act. In 2007 the Supreme Court ruled that the agency has the authority to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases under existing legislation. (Another rule that will regulate existing coal plants is in the works, but seems highly unlikely it'll be unveiled before the upcoming election.)
“The EPA has hit a home run for the planet,” says Mike Daulton, Audubon vice president of government relations. “The Obama administration’s new air pollution standards announced today are essential for limiting global carbon pollution that is already endangering the health of our children and families, as well as wildlife and the natural world.”
Warming trends driven by carbon pollution have already disrupted bird migration patterns. Nearly 60 percent of the 305 avian species found in winter across North America are shifting their ranges northward by an average of 35 miles.
Carbon pollution is harming human health and contributing to increasingly extreme weather, including floods and devastating storms.
The “new source pollution standard” isn’t a sure thing. There’s a 60-day public comment period and public hearings this spring. Now is the time for concerned citizens to voice their support for this critical new rule.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Tell the EPA that you support its standard to cut carbon pollution. If you subscribe to Audubon magazine, mail in the tear-out card on page 17 of the March-April 2012 issue. You can't miss the card; it's got a gorgeous snowy owl and says CUT CARBON POLLUTION NOW! Otherwise, visit Audubon's Action Center site to send a comment.
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