The Obama administration took a significant step toward enacting the president’s climate policy on Friday morning, when Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Gina McCarthy unveiled a sweeping new regulation for all future power plant construction. The roll out came almost three months after a major climate policy address in which President Obama said he was directing the EPA to “put an end to the limitless dumping of carbon pollution from our power plants, and complete new pollution standards for both new and existing power plants.”
“This is the first uniform national limit on carbon emission from new power plants,” said McCarthy during a speech to the National Press Club. The regulation sets new emission standards for gas, natural gas and coal-fired power plants, but will not affect currently existing plants. Depending on the type of plant and the sort of fuel being burned, new power plants will only be able to emit a maximum of either 1,000 or 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour.
This new regulation is a slightly modified version of a rule originally proposed by McCarthy’s predecessor, Lisa P. Jackson, in March 2012. That rule would have required all new power plants to emit less than 1,000 pounds per megawatt hour; after receiving considerable feedback from the public and energy industry, the EPA decided to make the rule a little more “flexible,” according to McCarthy. The rules were slightly relaxed for new coal plants, though the new maximum limit of 1,100 pounds per megawatt hour is still a significant reduction from the 1,800 pounds per megawatt hour which a typical modern coal plant emits.
The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), one of the world’s biggest environmental advocacy groups, applauded the new regulation as a “critical step” in the right direction.
“The standard makes clear that tomorrow’s power plants won’t be built at the expense of our children’s future. It signals that we’re moving, as a country, to the clean energy solutions we need,” said NRDC President Frances Beinecke in a statement.
Republican leadership and major energy companies have been less effusive.
“The president’s decision today is an escalation of the War on Coal and what that really means for Kentucky families is an escalation of his War on Jobs and the Kentucky economy. This is another attempt by the president to fulfill his long-term commitment to shut down our nation’s coal mines,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in a statement.
“Coal is the largest source of electric power, representing almost 40% of power generation in the first half of this year,” according to a press release from the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, an energy industry group. “So, EPA regulations that hamper or stifle innovation in the coal-powered sector represent a profound threat to the future of energy security, electric reliability, and job creation in the United States.”