The end of coal? EPA announces carbon emission limits for new power plants

The Environmental Protection Agency has announced the first-ever carbon limits on new power plants in the United States. The move is an executive action as President Obama acts to bypass Congress. House Republicans have denounced CO2 limits as a “war on coal.” The new rule will not impact power plants currently in operation.

EPA administrator Gina McCarthy made the announcement during an address to the National Press Club on Friday in Washington. According to the New York Times, her proposal seeks to “limit new gas-fired power plants to 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per megawatt hour and new coal plants to 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide.”

Environmental groups like the League of Conservation Voters have welcomed the announcement, while Republican leaders argue the new limits will significantly increase the cost of electricity. To achieve lower rates of emission, power plants may be forced to rely on carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology, which scrubs CO2 from smokestack output and stores greenhouse gases in underground facilities. Critics of the technology cite the high cost of implementing and maintaining CCS infrastructure.

Will natural gas now win the “war on coal”?

Mother Jones magazine reports that coal has already been falling behind natural gas – even before the new limits were announced. David Doniger, policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Climate and Clean Air program, says “The natural gas boom is what changed the economics and is doing it to coal. It’s not the EPA.”

Source: US Energy Information Agency

According to the US Energy Information Administration, “between 2000 and 2012, natural gas generating capacity grew by 96%. By contrast, additions to coal capacity were relatively minor during that period, and petroleum-fired capacity declined by 12%.” In 2012, coal power accounted for 37% of total US electricity generation, and natural gas accounted for 30%.

Public comment period

The EPA seeks comment on the proposed carbon rules and will hold a public hearing. The comment period will remain open for 60 days. In addition, the agency will work with states and stakeholders to develop emission guidelines for existing power plants.

environmental dataCarissa Ries

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