Obama administration proposes first-ever carbon limits

September 20, 2013

The Obama administration pushed forward with a proposal that would set the first-ever national carbon limits and would place tough requirements on new coal-fired power plants, despite protests from industry and from Republicans that the measure would mean a dim future for the coal industry.

The measure is a key step in President Barack Obama’s global warming plans, because it would help end what he called “the limitless dumping of carbon pollution” from power plants.

National Mining Association President Hal Quinn said the proposal would kill jobs in the coal industry and hurt the national economy. “New regulations proposed by the administration on the construction of new coal power plants puts hundreds of thousands of new and existing jobs at risks in mining, manufacturing, energy, transportation and construction,” Quinn said in an Op-ed published on the The Hill's Congress Blog.
Since the proposal deals with only new power plants it will have a limited effect on global emissions of heat-trapping pollution. However, a separate standard for the existing fleet of power plants, the largest source of carbon emissions, is due next summer.

The proposed rule packs the same punch as one announced last year, which was widely criticized by industry and by Republicans as effectively banning any new coal-fired power plants, The Associated Press reported.

The administration went back to the drawing board after receiving more than 2 million comments on its first proposal, which was legally vulnerable because it required coal and natural gas to meet the same limit. Coal and natural gas now have separate standards, but the latest proposal will almost certainly to be litigated once it becomes final, which the law requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to do in a year.

Opponents say that to meet the standard, new coal-fired power plants would need to install expensive technology to capture carbon dioxide and bury it underground. No coal-fired power plant has done that yet, in large part because of the cost.

Coal, which is already struggling to compete with cheap natural gas, accounts for 40 percent of U.S. electricity, a share that was already shrinking. And natural gas would need no additional pollution controls to comply.

The legal argument likely will be based around whether carbon capture and storage is a demonstrated technology.

"EPA has set a dangerous and far-reaching precedent for the broader economy by failing to base environmental standards on reliable technology," said Quinn. The EPA regulation "effectively bans coal from America's power portfolio," he said.


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