While the EPA has, under the Clean Air Act put federal limits on toxic emissions of arsenic, mercury, and lead pollution that power plants emit – as well as on pollutants like sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides – there are currently no such limits on the carbon emissions from new or existing power plants. The proposed CAA rules will now undergo a 60-day public comment period, minor adjustments, and likely legal challenges as well, before being finalized next fall.
“By taking common-sense action to limit carbon pollution from new power plants, we can slow the effects of climate change and fulfill our obligation to ensure a safe and healthy environment for our children,” Ms. McCarthy said in a statement. “These standards will also spark the innovation we need to build the next generation of power plants, helping grow a more sustainable clean-energy economy.”
Power plants today are the largest concentrated source of emissions in the United States, together accounting for more than one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions. The typical coal-fired power plant emits around 3.5 million tons of CO2 to the atmosphere annually, with the US fleet venting about 2.3 billion tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide gas into the atmosphere each year.
In justifying its action, the EPA spoke of the health benefits and reduced property damage from reining in global warming over the long term, citing National Climate Data Center findings of 12 climate disasters in 2012, each causing more than a billion dollars of damage, a year-long drought, crop failures in 22 states, western wildfires that burned 9.2 million acres, as well as Hurricane Sandy. While climate change is “not the sole cause of such events” it is “a contributing factor,” the agency noted.