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EPA proposes new rules to cut power plant carbon dioxide emissions

On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed two rules to reduce carbon emissions from electric power plants.

New carbon emission limits proposed for power plants
Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

"Climate change, fueled by carbon pollution, supercharges risks to our health, our economy, and our way of life,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a statement today.

Climate change exacerbates heat, drought, smog, the intensity of extreme weather events and related health effects.

Today’s federal agency action follows through on a promise to tackle climate change made by President Obama in his January 2013 second Inaugural Address.

“EPA is delivering on a vital piece of President Obama's Climate Action Plan,” McCarthy said today.

The science of climate change and man’s influence on it has become accepted although critics and doubters remain.

A climate-indicators report released by the EPA last week catalogues rising average temperatures, more frequent extreme weather conditions, increased precipitation and heavier precipitation as some of the consequences of climate change.

Climate change from greenhouse gases is caused in part by carbon dioxide emissions, and electric power plants are a primary contributor of such emissions.

One of the proposed rules issued today will require existing power plants to reduce carbon emissions an average of 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. Emission reduction targets will be set on a state-by-state basis taking into account reductions states have already made.

The other proposed rule sets performance standards on carbon emissions from modified and reconstructed electric generation plants that rely on fossil-fuel steam or natural gas-fired turbines to generate power.

In 2007, the Supreme Court determined that greenhouse gases meet the criteria of air pollutants that are subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act. In December 2009, EPA found six key greenhouse gases adversely affect public health.

Carbon dioxide accounts for 84 percent of those six greenhouse gases addressed by the EPA in 2009. Power plants account for roughly one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

On June 25, 2013, the President issued a memorandum directing the EPA to take agency action to reduce carbon emissions from new, modified and reconstructed, and existing power powers.

The EPA has already proposed to limit carbon emissions from new power plants.

Today’s performance standards for modified and reconstructed power plants are consistent with those proposed on September 20, 2013 for new plants. EPA proposes to follow a different approach for existing plants.

The political division in this country makes implementing any national energy policy through new legislation difficult. Congress has failed to form consensus on a broad national energy policy as many other countries have done.

Yet, U.S. energy markets do not conform to state boundaries. Maryland and D.C., for example, participate in the PJM electric market, which manages the high-voltage electric grid and operates the competitive wholesale electric market in 13-states plus the District of Columbia.

The EPA proposals issued today follow a year of related actions by executive agencies to meet the Presidential objective last year to curb carbon emissions.

The proposed rules issued today are part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan released last June.

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