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New regulations require utilities to cut carbon by 30 percent

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EPA Director Gina McCarthy announced new regulations Monday that require existing power plants to reduce carbon dioxide pollution by 30 percent by 2030. Electric power plants are the largest source of carbon dioxide pollution which is the main contributor to climate change. This will be the most significant reduction in pollution since the Clean Air Act was signed 40 years ago by Richard Nixon.

The proposed cuts are equivalent to eliminating two-thirds of cars and trucks in the United States, the EPA said. The rule will force the power industry to continue the already-sizable reductions it has achieved since 2005, by decreasing its reliance on coal and slumping demand for electricity. Part of that is due to Renewable Energy Standards in place in many states.

In addition to the carbon-cutting benefits, the EPA says that the reductions will also cut enough soot and smog to prevent up to 6,600 premature deaths and 150,000 asthma attacks a year. The administration calculates that the rule will create $55 billion to $93 billion in economic benefits, compared with just $7.3 billion to $8.8 billion in costs.

EPA also projects that electric bills will drop an average of 8 percent when the program is fully implemented in 2030, thanks to energy efficiency improvements that the rule will accelerate. The price of solar has fallen 60 percent, and wind 40 percent in recent years.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the new rule will give states time to fall in line with carbon reduction rules. The rule will also give states flexibility in meeting carbon reduction standards by allowing them to submit compliance plans by June, 2016. All reductions will be calculated using 2005 as the base year.

Each state will have different percent reduction standards, and the national average will be 25 percent by 2020 and 30 percent by 2030. The proposed rule will regulate carbon emissions from nearly 1,000 fossil-fuel power plants across the U.S., including 600 coal plants, which will be hit hardest by the standard. Gas burns cleaner than coal. Coal accounts for about 37 percent of the U.S. power supply, but it produces about three-quarters of the industry’s CO2.

The Supreme Court ruled that the government can regulate carbon under the provisions of the Clean Air Act. Already, that act has regulated emissions of other dangerous pollutants. This is the first time it will regulate carbon in existing plants. Previously, the EPA released new regulations for new power plants.

Immediately Republicans, and some Democrats from coal states, attacked the measure as a war on coal. They claim it will cost hundreds of thousands of jobs (more than are even employed in the coal industry). They say it will increase utility bills by 80 percent. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce claimed it would cost the economy $50 billion a year.

Those arguments might make sense if utilities stopped using coal rather than clean up their plants, and if Americans stopped using the amount of electricity generated by dirty plants. Consumers are not about to stop using electricity. The free market will cause utilities to switch to cleaner forms of energy including gas, solar, and wind. Each of those industries would then increase employment, offsetting more jobs than the jobs lost in the coal industry.

Health care savings will more than offset losses to GDP.

The Republican Party is the home to most of the climate change deniers in Congress, and they see no benefit to reducing pollution. Big polluters like the Koch Brothers and coal companies will spend hundreds of millions of dollars on lobbyists and TV ads to kill these rules. Republicans hope their attack on these rules will give them control of the Senate. Environmental groups will organize a counter attack to drive public pinion as well.

Nevertheless, this is a big day for the climate and American health.

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