Obama has finally made good on his second inaugural address promise to curb the affects of climate change by limiting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Last Friday, Obama’s new regulations were introduced by the EPA‘s administrator Gina McCarthy, which aim to pass the first federal carbon caps on US power companies.
According to the proposed regulations, new natural gas-fired power plants will be restricted to 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per megawatt hour, and new coal plants will be restricted to 1,100 pounds. Coal power plants are also required to install a new technology called “carbon capture and sequestration,” which cleans their emissions of carbon dioxide before the emissions are released. The technology transfers the carbon dioxide into permanent storage underground.
In addition, McCarthy will embark on a yearlong series of meetings across the US, which will engage the public, industry and environmental groups on how the EPA should address emissions restrictions on existing power plants.
Obama has decided to circumvent Congress on his proposed climate change regulations. Republicans argue that the new technology the administration wants to implement is costly and will increase the price of electricity — a technology to cheaply decrease carbon emissions has yet to be developed. Industry representatives contend that the “carbon capture and sequestration” technology has not been employed on a large scale, and violates the Clean Air Act, which requires new regulations to not be costly, while also demonstrating functionality.
The new proposed regulations are more manageable than the administration’s 2012 version, the current version supplying coal plant operators with more time to meet the GHG limits. The EPA has also provided for even more flexibility by allowing plants, existing or new, that install the new technology within one year to meet the 1,100 pound limit. Plant owners also have the choice of incorporating the limits over a seven year period — those who go that route would be obligated to meet a more rigid limit of 1,000-1,050 pounds, averaged over the seven years.
The Energy Information Administration recently reported that 40% of 2012′s greenhouse gas emissions originated from power plants, a bulk of that coming from coal-burning power plants. Existing coal plants currently spew almost 1,800 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per hour. Obama wants the GHG limits intact before his second term is over in 2017.
We are glad that some concrete steps have been taken to combat climate change. Obama’s executive order through the EPA is the only way to curb GHG in our overly polarized political environment. EPA action was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court as having legal authority to regulate carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act.
Obama and the EPA’s efforts have been vigorously attacked by the coal industry and climate change-deniers. Then again, nothing great has ever been accomplished without strong attack by the negatively affected party — a sign of a well-functioning healthy democracy.
Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan
September 23, 2013
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