US to cut CO2 from existing power plants

The 1900s called, they want their means of energy production back.

By 2030, the CPP proposal should reduce CO2 emissions from the power sector by 30 per cent nationwide, compared to 2005 levels, and provide up to US$93 billion in climate and public health benefits

On 2 June, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published its Clean Power Plan, a proposal to cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from existing power plants. Accounting for roughly one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions in the US, power plants are the country’s single largest source of carbon pollution.

While there are already limits in place for air pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter (PM), mercury and arsenic from this sector, there are currently no national limits on carbon pollution levels.

In 2009, following a US Supreme Court decision, the EPA determined that greenhouse gas pollution threatens Americans’ health and welfare by leading to long-lasting changes in Earth’s climate that can have a range of negative effects on human health and the environment. This determination gave the EPA the authority to regulate CO2 emissions.

It is estimated that by 2030 the proposal will cut CO2 emissions from the power sector by 30 per cent nationwide below 2005 levels. As a co-benefit it will also reduce emissions of PM, nitrogen oxides, and sulphur dioxide by more than 25 per cent, thus avoiding up to 6,600 premature deaths, up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children, and up to 490,000 missed work or school days – providing up to US$93 billion in climate and public health benefits. Moreover, it will shrink electricity bills roughly eight per cent by increasing energy efficiency and reducing demand from the power grid.

“By leveraging cleaner energy sources and cutting energy waste, this plan will clean the air we breathe while helping slow climate change so we can leave a safe and healthy future for our kids,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

The plan is to be implemented through a state-federal partnership under which states identify a path forward using either current or new electricity production and pollution control policies to meet the goals of the programme. The proposal provides guidelines for states to develop plans to meet state-specific goals to reduce CO2 emissions and gives them the flexibility to design a programme that makes the most sense for their specific situation. States can choose the right mix of generation using diverse fuels, energy efficiency and demand-side management to meet the goals. It allows them to work alone to develop individual plans or to work together with other states to develop multi-state plans. 

The EPA will accept comments on the proposal for 120 days after its publication and will hold several public hearings. Based on this input, EPA will finalize standards by June 2015.

Friends of the Earth US acknowledges the proposed rule, which is supported by Barack Obama, as “the most significant step any American president has taken to mitigate climate disruption”, but states that it needs to be strengthened in order deliver the emission reductions needed to avoid the worst impacts from climate change and recommends the following changes to the rule:

Increase state targets to require greater emission reductions substantial enough to avert catastrophic climate disruption;

Require reductions to be made by 2020, rather than 2030, to accelerate action to prevent the accumulation of greenhouse gas emissions;

Change the base year from 2005 to the internationally accepted baseline of 1990, which will more accurately reflect the required reductions;

Promote the use of clean renewable energy, such as wind and solar, over dirty fossil fuels, such as natural gas and coal; and 

Allow a sufficiently robust carbon tax as a means for states to comply with the rule.

Kate DeAngelis, climate and energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth, calls on the EPA to “heed public demand and release more stringent state targets. The rule remains woefully insufficient and will not lead to the emission reductions necessary to avoid catastrophic climate disruption. The EPA must strengthen the rule so that the state targets are stringent enough to substantially shift our energy system from dirty fossil fuels to a clean, renewable energy future”.


Source: EPA press release 2 June 2014.

Fact sheet by FOE US


In this issue