WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency, as pledged, has imposed strict new greenhouse gas emissions standards on newly constructed power plants, drawing immediate objections from coal-state lawmakers who expressed a determination to get the regulations reversed.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, in a speech focused on the new rules at the National Press Club, said that global climate change caused by carbon pollution “is one of the most significant public health threats of our time,” thus forcing her agency to adopt stringent measures.
“By taking common-sense action to limit carbon pollution from new power plants, we can slow the effects of climate change and fulfill our obligation to ensure a safe and healthy environment for our children,” McCarthy said. “These standards will also spark the innovation we need to build the next generation of power plants, helping grow a more sustainable clean energy economy.”
But climate-change skeptics and energy state lawmakers maintained that the changes further reflect President Obama’s ongoing “war on coal,” implementing a plan that will require new coal plants to install expensive equipment, which, in turn, will lead to higher utility bills.
“This is another attempt by the president to fulfill his long-term commitment to shut down our nation’s coal mines,” said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, the nation’s third-largest coal producer.
Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power, called the new regulations “extreme” and said that the change essentially renders it “illegal to build a coal-fired electricity-generating plant in America.”
“This move is another attempt to bankrupt the coal industry to fulfill a campaign promise to radical environmentalists,” Whitfield said, adding that “electricity consumers will pay the price, making our economy less competitive in the global market place.”
The EPA’s decision was far from unexpected. Obama laid out an extensive climate-change plan last June that called for substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, which are produced in great quantity by coal-fired power plants. As a result of the Clean Air Act, the new curbs do not require congressional authorization.
Coal-fired plants account for about 40 percent of the nation’s power.
Under the amended rules, expected to be finalized sometime next year, new large natural gas-fired power plant turbines will be required to meet a limit of 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour, while new small natural gas-fired turbines would need to meet a limit of 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour. New coal-fired units would need to meet a limit of 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour but would be given some flexibility under the plan to meet the EPA’s goals.
Currently, the most efficient coal-fired plants emit CO2 at a rate of about 1,800 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour. Whitfield said the cleanest coal-fired electricity technology presently available, known as ultra-supercritical, cannot meet the new EPA standard.
The new regulations require new coal plants to install technology that will capture carbon before it can be released into the atmosphere. The technology, however, is not yet available. EPA is so confident in its promise and eventual availability, however, that it is giving coal-fired plants only seven years to comply.