For the first time in U.S. history, an administration has proposed rules to cut carbon-dioxide emissions from existing power plants.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed that existing plants reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent—compared to 2005 levels—by 2030. Coal-fired power plants are responsible for about 40 percent of the country’s emissions and collectively constitute the nation’s single-largest source of greenhouse gas pollution.

If reached, that goal would represent “net climate and health benefits” of $48 billion to $82 billion, according to the EPA’s 645-page document. Despite that reduction, coal and natural gas would still remain the country’s top two sources of energy, combining for more than 60 percent of the grid, the EPA projects.

Existing power plants are the target of the EPA's carbon regulation proposal. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
Existing power plants are the target of the EPA’s carbon regulation proposal. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Though the carbon rule represents a monumental moment many environmentalists have been awaiting, it remains a proposal until June 2015, when the open period for revisions and public comment ends. Still, optimism arose Monday for the centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s climate action plan.

“The President promised he would act to tackle the climate crisis and protect the health of our children and grandchildren—and he is keeping his word,” Michael Brune, executive director of the 2.4 million-member Sierra Club said prior to the rules’ unveiling. “These aren’t just the first-ever protections to clean up carbon pollution from power plants, they represent the largest single step any President has ever taken to fight climate disruption.”

Emissions dropped by about 10 percent from 2005 to 2012, which is a “good start” when coupled with advances in renewable energy and efficiency programs, Obama said. Still, the rules are needed for the country to do its part in curbing climate change, scientists have warned about for years.

“Right now, there are no national limits to the amount of carbon pollution that existing plants can pump into the air we breathe—none,” Obama said in his national address Saturday. “We limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury, sulfur and arsenic that power plants put in our air and water. But they can dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air.

“It’s not smart, it’s not safe, and it doesn’t make sense.”

The EPA believes researchers and developers, as well as individual cities and states, have shown that the 30-percent target is achievable because current innovations in electricity and sustainability. Just last week the solar energy sector celebrated dominating the first quarter of 2014 with 74 percent of all new energy capacity.

“This is a critical first step toward the U.S. meeting its obligations as a good global citizen to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions,” said Dr. Michael E. Mann, an author and director of Penn State University’s Earth System Science Center.

Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said the proposal an opportunity for the nation to continue its increased deployment of renewable energy. 

Pages: • 1 • 2