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EPA outlines first steps to limit US coal plant pollution

Carbon Emissions

The smoke stacks at American Electric Power’s Mountaineer coal power plant in New Haven, West Virginia. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “EPA outlines first steps to limit US coal plant pollution” was written by Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment corresponden, for theguardian.com on Friday 20th September 2013 16.01 UTC

Barack Obama took his first real step to fulfilling his sweeping climate action plan on Friday, proposing the first rules to limit carbon pollution from future coal-fired power plants.

The new rules on natural gas and coal plants, announced by the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy, will for the first time limit the single largest source of carbon pollution: greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

“The EPA action today to address carbon pollution from new power plants is an important step forward,” McCarthy said in a speech to the National Press Club. “It’s a necessary step to address a public health challenge that we simply can not afford to ignore any longer.”

Dan Lashoff, who leads the climate programme of the Natural Resources Defence Council, said: “Basically the EPA declared the days of unlimited carbon pollution are over.”

The new rules are just a first step for the EPA in capping emissions from the power industry, but they are already under attack from industry and Republicans accusing Obama of waging a war on coal and will almost certainly face legal challenges.

Natural gas plants already meet the standards for new power plants, an EPA official said in a conference call with reporters. But coal is a far dirtier fuel when burned and the new standards announced on Friday will require future plants to be about 40% cleaner than the coal plants in operation today.

Opponents say the standards on new power plants cannot be reached without expensive new carbon capture technologies still not in commercial use. McCarthy said the rules introduced on Friday could come into force within the year.

The EPA will take far more ambitious, and contentious, action in June 2014 when it proposes new rules to limit carbon pollution from existing power plants, which are the country’s single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

“The proposal that we are putting out today is about new sources – new, new new, it’s not about existing,” McCarthy said. But she reaffirmed repeatedly the EPA was working with states and industry on the new rules for existing plants.

“These proposed standards are the first proposed uniform standards on new plants,” said McCarthy. “They do not apply to old plants.”

The announcement was just the first step to fulfilling Obama’s sweeping promises to act on climate change, and McCarthy said the EPA was already working with industry to ease the way for the even more ambitious task of controlling emissions from existing power plants.

As outlined on Friday, those rules would cap greenhouse gas emissions at 1,000lb (453kg) of carbon dioxide emissions per megawatt hour for larger scale new gas-fired power plants, and 1,100lb of carbon dioxide emissions per megawatt hour for new coal-fired power plants.

Existing coal-fired power plants burn between 1,600 and 2,100lbs of carbon dioxide an hour, and it will be impossible for future coal-fired plants to meet those standards without expensive new carbon capture technologies.

McCarthy said industry could embrace new technologies to meet the standards. “New power plants, both natural gas and coal-fired, can minimise their carbon emissions by taking advantage of available modern technologies,” she said.

But as the coal industry has frequently pointed out, such technologies remain untested on a commercial scale.

There are no coal plants currently using such technologies anywhere in the world. Only one is under construction so far in America, in Mississippi, with three other such coal plants planned in Texas and Illinois.

However, McCarthy said repeatedly that carbon capture and storage was a feasible and available technology. “It has been demonstrated and it is actually being constructed in real facilities today,” she said. “I believe the proposal rather than killing future coal actually sets out a pathway forward for coal to be part of the diverse energy supply in the future.”


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