WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency has imposed a set of new air quality standards on the nation’s coal-burning power plants aimed at slashing carbon emissions from 2005 levels by 30 percent within 16 years.
The long-anticipated new rules, announced by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy under the direction of President Obama, mandate that the power sector use cleaner energy sources and cut energy waste to address issues of national health and global climate change. They take effect in 2015.
“Although we limit pollutants like mercury, sulfur, and arsenic, currently, there are no limits on carbon pollution from power plants, our nation’s largest source,” McCarthy said. “For the sake of our families’ health and our kids’ future, we have a moral obligation to act on climate. When we do, we’ll turn climate risk into business opportunity, we’ll spur innovation and investment, and we’ll build a world-leading clean energy economy.”
There are about 600 coal-fired power plants across America generating about 40 percent of the nation’s electricity. Those plants also are responsible for about one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions, says the EPA. Last October, the agency imposed strict new greenhouse gas emissions standards on newly constructed power plants. This move completes the circle.
“The science is clear, the risks are clear and the high costs of climate inaction keep piling up,” McCarthy said. “Rising temperatures bring more smog, more asthma, and longer allergy seasons. If your kid doesn’t use an inhaler, consider yourself a lucky parent, because 1 in 10 children in the U.S. suffers from asthma. Carbon pollution from power plants comes packaged with other dangerous pollutants like particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide, putting our families at even more risk.”
Objections came swiftly. Tom Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the regulations “add immense cost and regulatory burdens on America’s job creators.”
“They will have a profound effect on the economy, on businesses and on families,” Donohue said.
Last week, the Chamber released a report maintaining that a regulation like the one promulgated by the administration will decrease a family’s disposable income by $3,400 per year and increase their electricity bills by $200. The report also estimates a loss of 224,000 jobs per year between 2014 and 2030.
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), ranking member on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the rule is “all pain and no gain,” asserting that it is expected to have a less than 2 percent impact on carbon emissions reductions worldwide because other large producers like China and India are not involved.
“American families and businesses will have to shoulder all the costs and burden from this rule without contributing to any significant reduction in global carbon emissions,” Vitter said.
Businesses and Republicans weren’t the only ones protesting. Democrats from coal states, like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, said the regulation “does little to address the global problem with global solutions.”
“Instead, today’s rule appears to be more about desirability rather than reliability or feasibility, with little regard for rising consumer prices, the effects on jobs and the impact on the reliability of our electric grid,” Manchin said, adding that the proposed rules “are not based on any existing technology that has been proven on a commercial scale.”
But environmental groups celebrated. Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the administration’s initiative “a giant leap forward in protecting the health of all Americans and future generations.”
“Strong carbon pollution standards will be good for our health, good for our economy and good for our children and all future generations.”
Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, called the new regulation “the biggest step we’ve ever taken for the biggest challenge we’ve ever faced.”
“It helps meet our moral obligation to future generations to act on climate change at a time when we’re seeing impacts on our health and our communities nationwide,” Karpinski said. “This is a plan that can be shaped by the states, giving Governors the flexibility they need. The American people support these commonsense safeguards and are sick of the lie that pollution has to be the fuel of our economic engine. The desperate and dirty opponents of these safeguards are using a failed, outdated playbook to protect their profits.”