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.
President Obama said the new EPA rules were in line with his mandate to address the climate change problem by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, noted in his State of the Union speech – and in a major policy speech in June.
“Today, we build on that progress by proposing common-sense standards that will begin to put an end to the limitless release of carbon pollution from our power plants, creating cleaner air and a healthier environment for our children and for future generations,” Mr. Obama said in a statement.
The move, he said, would build on existing trends in states and cities already requiring cleaner energy sources – including power companies shifting to cleaner technologies to generate electricity. Nearly a dozen states have already implemented or are implementing their own market-based programs to reduce carbon pollution, the EPA reported, and 25 states have set energy efficiency targets with 35 having set renewable energy targets.