EPA proposes first-ever climate rules

Charlie Riedel/AP file photo

The Environmental Protection Agency proposed limits on greenhouse-gas emissions from new power plants on Tuesday, taking the first major regulatory action to address climate change as promised by President Obama's administration soon after he took office in 2009.

“We’re taking a common-sense step to reduce pollution in our air, protect the planet for our children, and move us into a new era of American energy,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a statement released with the regulations.

The “new era” for energy will mean less reliance on coal, which currently provides nearly half of U.S. power supplies, and greater use of cleaner-burning natural gas, the EPA said in a release summarizing the rules. The agency is proposing that new fossil-fuel power plants — namely those fired by coal and natural gas — emit no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon per megawatt-hour of energy produced. That’s about the same amount of carbon emissions produced by today’s natural gas-plants and about half the amount of produced by coal plants.

“EPA’s proposed standard reflects the ongoing trend in the power sector to build cleaner plants that take advantage of American-made technologies, including new clean-burning, efficient natural-gas generation, which is already the technology of choice for new and planned power plants,” the EPA release said.

Even before EPA officially announced the rule, environmentalists were cheering and critics of the agency were jeering. The rule is sure to reignite a fight over climate change both in Congress and on the campaign trail.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member James Inhofe, R-Okla., immediately vowed to fight the rule by introducing a congressional resolution to nullify it. “This plan is the most devastating installment in the Obama administration’s war on affordable energy: It achieves their cap-and-trade agenda through regulation instead of legislation,” Inhofe said at a hearing on Tuesday.

Environmentalists prodding the agency to act were elated that the administration proposed the rule after delaying it several times since last July.

“EPA deserves a standing ovation for today’s historic action to protect Americans’ health, strengthen our economy, and address the clear and present danger of carbon pollution,” said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, one of the environmental groups leading a legal challenge to force EPA action on greenhouse-gas emissions, which most scientists agree are the chief cause of climate change.

Despite industry charges, EPA asserted that the rule will not create undue costs on the electricity sector. “Because this standard is in line with current industry investment patterns, this proposed standard is not expected to have notable costs and is not projected to impact electricity prices or reliability,” the agency said.

The limits will apply to new power plants only and grandfather in the dozen or so plants going through the licensing and permitting process right now, according to sources familiar with the rules. EPA will issue rules that apply to the current fleet of power plants later this year, likely after the November elections.

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