EPA Proposes Limits on Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Existing Power Plants

coal plant

On June 2, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its long-awaited proposal to limit carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. Carbon dioxide is a primary greenhouse gas linked to climate change, and power plants are the largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S., contributing nearly one-third of domestic greenhouse gas emissions. This is the first time that EPA has proposed limiting carbon dioxide from existing plants.

The proposal is a major component of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which directed EPA to set limits on carbon dioxide emitted from new and existing power plants. Under the plan, EPA must finalize the proposed rule by June 2015.

EPA’s proposal seeks to achieve a 30 percent reduction in carbon emissions and a 25 percent reduction of particle pollution, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide by 2030 from 2005 levels. States will have one year to develop an implementation plan for achieving these reductions and will have two to three years to finalize those plans. Ensuring maximum flexibility, the rule allows states to choose from among a variety of options to achieve the reductions, such as by requiring plants to use new, cleaner technologies, switching from coal to less polluting natural gas or renewable energy sources, reducing power use through improved efficiency, or developing a multi-state or regional market-based greenhouse gas trading program.   

EPA estimates that the proposal would help prevent up to 6,600 premature deaths, 150,000 childhood asthma attacks, and 490,000 missed school and work days, and would deliver additional benefits from reduced climate change impacts. These achievements would result in up to $84 billion in net benefits to public health and the environment. The rule is also expected to create tens of thousands of jobs across multiple sectors of the economy. (For more on how these new limits on carbon emission will benefit you, check out the White House’s infographic here.)

According to a new poll by The Washington Post and ABC, 70 percent of all adults surveyed said there should be limits on greenhouse gases from existing power plants and that each state should be responsible for achieving those reductions. Notably, the poll shows that support for the proposal is largely bipartisan, with 79 percent of Democrats, 76 percent of independents, and 57 percent of Republicans agreeing with EPA’s state-based approach to limiting carbon emissions.

Contrary to the public’s wide support for EPA’s latest action to combat climate change, industry groups remain vehemently opposed to the proposed carbon limits, claiming that it will devastate the U.S. economy. But the White House reminds the public that these claims are nothing more than baseless rhetoric, writing: “zero—that’s the number of times special interests have been right about having to choose between the health of our people and the health of our economy.”

As groups on both sides of the issue more closely examine the proposal, there is likely to be much debate over the rule’s impacts, both in terms of benefits to public health and the environment and costs to businesses. Once the proposal is published in the Federal Register, all interested people will have an opportunity to comment on the proposal for 120 days. EPA also plans to host four public hearings on the proposal in July.

More information on EPA’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions from power plants in the U.S. and opportunities for the public to get involved can be found here.

UPDATE (06/19/2014):  On June 18, EPA’s proposed rule to limit carbon dioxide from power plants was published in the Federal Register, commencing the notice-and-comment period for the rule. The deadline for anyone interested in submitting comments on the proposed rule is Oct. 16, 2014.

The proposal also provides details on four public hearings EPA will convene this July.  The meetings are intended to provide an opportunity for those interested in the rulemaking to present data, views, or arguments on the proposal to the agency.

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