Today, the US EPA proposed rules that put strong limits on greenhouse gas emissions from new coal plants.
The rules only apply to new power plants, not to existing ones – we’re still waiting on those. They would cut GHG emissions by about half in new coal plants, about the same as produced by natural gas plants (EPA says they already meet the requirements).
Specifically, new power plants are limited to 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt (CO2/MW) of electricity produced. Coal plants emit an average of 1768 pounds of CO2/ MW and natural gas plants emit 800-850 pounds of CO2/MW, which meets the standard.
There are plenty of loopholes:
The rule exempts coal plants that are already permitted and beginning construction within a year. About 20 coal plants are pursuing permits.
It also exempts biomass plants and allows new coal plants to pollute for 10 solid years if they "plan" to install carbon capture.
Coal plants emit about 40% of US carbon emissions – about 2.3 billion tons every year – far exceeding other pollution sources.
Believe it or not, US coal plants produce more emissions than most countries do. Once built, they’re in service for about 50 years, so building just one inefficient, emissions-intensive plant locks us into millions of tons of future climate pollution.
Just five new coal plants like the one recently built in Texas would discharge enough emissions over its lifetime to entirely offset the emission savings from Phase II of the Clean Cars Standards. We cannot effectively address climate destabilizing emissions without addressing the pollution emitted by the power sector.
These would be the first nationwide limits on climate-destabilizing pollution from new power plants, essentially halving the emission rate for new coal plants relative to uncontrolled levels. They are are similar to clean air standards adopted in a number of states: California, Oregon, New York, Montana, Minnesota, New Mexico and Washington State.
The rules will give power companies the certainty they need to invest in cleaner, safer power plants. Many utilities have been holding off investing because of this uncertainty.
You can find the biggest polluters on EPA’s new website.
EPA’s rules are actually required under a court order after being sued by numerous states and environmental groups. In December, the EPA issued rules under court order that control emissions of mercury, lead and other toxic pollutants from power plants. Power plants are responsible for 50% of the mercury and over 75% of acid gas emissions in the US.
Putting it all together, power plants need only to install pollution prevention control equipment, but they’ve managed to postpone this for some 20 years.
But it will still be a huge fight to get these rules finalized. Climate deniers and the Dirty Air Lobby – coal companies, utilities, etc. – have been attacking them before they were even released.
They’ll spend millions on lobbying and run paid ads saying climate science isn’t settled, that cutting carbon pollution will completely destroy our economy, and raise electricity prices, and that the sun sets in the east.
Operation Free, a nationwide coalition of US Veterans who recognize that climate change is a major threat, say:
"The military is demonstrating clear leadership in developing energy solutions. The rest of government must follow the military’s example by taking bold action, such as the new EPA CAFE standards that will strengthen car and light truck mileage to 54.5 miles per gallon standard by 2025, and the first national limits on carbon emissions from new electric plants."
"We must secure America with clean energy. Our civilian leaders must move past partisan politics and match the military’s commitment to clean energy. We call on Congress to support every effort to develop clean, secure, domestic sources of energy for the sake of the security of the United States of America."
Here are some climate change events you may not be aware of: