Friday, based on President Barack Obama’s push to protect the environment and combat climate change, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its modified draft rules to limit carbon emissions from new power plants, with rules for existing plants expected next summer.
The EPA claims that today’s power plants produce about one-third of the country's greenhouse gas emissions.
The administration and EPA anticipate a fight against any regulations and executive actions to limit coal-burning greenhouse gases from congressional lawmakers and the coal industry lobbyists who support them.
On Thursday, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is facing a tough re-election battle in the coal state of Kentucky, attempted to block the EPA draft rules before they were even announced. McConnell asked for unanimous consent to immediately pass his bill: the Saving Coal Jobs Act, but it was denied by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
"We have proven time after time that setting fair Clean Air Act standards to protect public health does not cause the sky to fall," EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a speech at the National Press Club where the draft rules were unveiled. "The economy does not crumble."
Rep. Lamar Smith, a Republican from Texas, climate denier and chairman of the House Science Committee said in a report from The Hill that the administration “is offering a costly, heavy-handed proposal that risks jobs and economic growth, all for negligible changes to our carbon dioxide emissions and no discernible impact on the global temperature.”
But McCarthy railed against Republican criticism that EPA rules were intent upon destroying the coal industry.
"I believe that this proposal, rather than killing future coal, actually sets out a certain pathway forward for coal to continue to be part of a diverse mix in this country [with cleaner technology]," said McCarthy.
“The overwhelming judgment of science tells us that climate change is real, that human activities are fueling that change and we must take action to avoid the most devastating consequences of climate change,” she said. “We all know this is not just about melting glaciers. Climate change caused by carbon pollution is one of the most significant public health threats of our time.”
Environmentalists have been fighting for years against unchecked tons of pollution spewed into the atmosphere every day by dirty coal.
“It’s a great day for public health and a clean energy future. These limits on carbon pollution are so common sense that most Americans assume they’re already in place. Carbon pollution is creating conditions that increase asthma attacks and extreme weather like floods, heat waves, and droughts nationwide. Any attempts by Congress to block implementation of these limits would go against the majority of Americans who support these common sense steps and would only benefit the country’s biggest polluters,” said League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski in a statement.
Nonetheless, utility experts complain about the anticipated cost of new techniques to produce fewer emissions from coal-burning power plants.
"Our customers have to agree to foot that bill," said Nicholas Akins, president and CEO of American Electric Power, one of the country's largest utilities.
But health officials say the cost of not cleaning up coal-powered plants is too high.
According to a USNewswire report, Physicians for Social Responsibility released a groundbreaking medical report last year entitled, "Coal's Assault on Human Health." It examines the devastating impacts of coal pollution on the human body and major organ systems and concludes that “coal contributes to four of the top five causes of mortality in the US and is responsible for increasing the incidence of major diseases already affecting large portions of the US population.”
Furthermore, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that airborne coal particulates shorten approximately one million lives worldwide every year, including 24,000 in the US.
The Obama administration has resorted to taking executive action on many issues, due to the gridlock in Congress, and analysts predict the implementation of new EPA rules on restricting carbon emissions from newly built power plants will likely follow a similar course.