At present, there is no uniform national limit on the amount of carbon emissions that new power plants can emit. The EPA noted in a fact sheet that the agency was compelled by a landmark 2007 Supreme Court ruling "to determine if [the emissions] threaten public health and welfare." In December 2009, the agency formally declared that greenhouse gases "endanger the public health and welfare of current and future generations."
Environmental groups praised the EPA’s announcement.
“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,” Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund said in a statement. “The bottom line for our nation is that cleaner power will cut harmful carbon pollution, protect our children from dangerous smog and other serious climate impacts, and help secure a safe and prosperous future."
Ms. Jackson stressed that what EPA is doing is in keeping with existing trends. Several states, including Washington, Oregon and California, already limit greenhouse gas emissions, while Montana and Illinois currently require new coal plants to capture and store their emissions, EPA noted.
Meanwhile, next-generation power plants that burn coal more cleanly should be able to meet the proposed standard without add-on controls, the EPA maintained.
Scores of old, inefficient coal-fired power plants were already expected to close as a result of other air pollution regulations – with gas fired plants popping up in their place. According to industry experts, if coal loses out in utilities’ decisions on what to build, it would be because the economics of burning gas are simply better than burning coal.