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NRDC to EPA: Reducing power plant emissions can be inexpensive, not kill economy

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Amid news this week that another group of esteemed scientists are raising alarms over climate change risks, and called on the Obama Administration to stop plans for LNG export terminals, the NRDC released on Friday a report showing how climate change mitigation could be really inexpensive.

Many claim that significant reductions in carbon pollution would come at the cost of grave economic risks, that "we" cannot afford to pay. The NRDC report shows, instead, that energy efficiency measures would produce dramatic carbon emission reductions, and that increasing renewable energy system deployment (wind and solar) would make an even bigger impact.

The authors of the study note that carbon pollution, a.k.a. carbon emissions, are not regulated at power plants. Power plants are regulated on a number of toxic chemicals like mercury, sulfur and arsenic, that get released into the air and water at power plants. Coal ash is a witches brew of toxic chemicals, for example. But carbon pollution does not get the same regulatory treatment despite being the primary culprit behind climate change.

The Obama Administration is claiming authority, under the Clean Air Act, to enact carbon pollution standards. It intends to release a proposed guideline of such regulations by June 1, 2014. The regulations will cover the approximately 1,000 power plants in the U.S., and after a period of public comment are expected to take effect in June 2015.

The NRDC's paper shows one way the EPA, in partnership with the states, can set up carbon pollution standards that will cut power plant carbon emissions by 21% to 31% by 2020, relative to 2012 levels.

The NRDC proposal relies on investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy infrastructure. It features a lowered cost of compliance, electricity bill reduction for businesses, and creation of thousands of jobs. Additionally the study shows that benefits from health care cost reduction and avoiding climate change effects would produce tens of billions of dollars in savings across the US economy. (for details see NRDC proposal shows EPA how to slash carbon emissions, save the climate, while saving megabucks)

In the NRDC's estimation, climate change effects are already obvious. The last few years have seen massive heat waves around the planet, and California just declared a water emergency after several years of inadequate winter rainfall have left California's water system dry. As a result it is imperative that carbon pollution be reduced not just in the United States, but around the world.

In the U.S. 40% of the carbon emissions come from power plants, 2.2 billion tons per year. The measures proposed by the NRDC would reduce power plant carbon emissions between 470-700 million tons per year.

For example improving energy efficiency of lighting systems would erase billions of dollars a year in electricity bills, while reducing demand for fossil fuel power plants by 10%. The word "Negawatt" was coined years ago, which means the electricity that doesn't have to be produced because of energy efficiency.

Under the plan, utility companies would be given carbon pollution limits for each power plant, as measured in pounds of CO2 per Megawatt-Hour of electricity production. They'd have a range of ways to meet those reductions, including buying credits from companies producing renewable electricity, or from state-run energy efficiency programs. The sales of regulatory credits would provide funding for renewable electricity production or energy efficiency programs.

Energy efficiency measures are one of the least expensive ways to clean up the environment. California has relied for decades on energy efficiency, and today uses less energy per person than it did in 1980. Efficiency results from replacing light bulbs or refrigerators, improving building insulation, systems that monitor buildings and optimize energy consumption, and more.