Mar 29, 2012 - 8:57am
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has for the first time proposed limits on carbon pollution from new power plants.
(The EPA is required to regulate CO2 emissions from power plants by the U.S. Clean Air Act, due to the threat to health and welfare caused by carbon pollution. This was confirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007)
The EPA has proposed that new power plants may emit no more than 1000lb (363kg) of CO2 per megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity produced. This standard permits combined-cycle gas plants, which emit 800lb CO2 per MWh, but it effectively precludes the construction of any new coal-fired plants unless they include carbon capture and storage.
(The standard explicitly excludes open-cycle gas plants used to meet peak demand. For more detail, see http://epa.gov/carbonpollutionstandard/actions.html)
Fossil-fuelled power plants contribute one third of United States’ total carbon pollution - 1500 plants release 2.3 billion tonnes of CO2 each year.*
This is the latest in a series of steps taken by the United States to regulate 70 per cent of its carbon emissions, in order to meet its commitment to a reduction of 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020. Other key actions include:
Stringent emissions standards for new cars and light trucks, set in November 2011. By 2025 new vehicles must achieve 55 miles per gallon (23km/litre) and emit no more than 163g of CO2 per mile (101g/km). This sector currently contributes 16 per cent of U.S. carbon emissions. The new standards are expected to save 2 billion tonnes of carbon pollution and 4 billion barrels of oil.**
EPA set standards in December to cut mercury, soot, and smog pollution from old power plants.
California implemented an emissions trading scheme on 1 January, and is working closely with British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba to develop harmonized cap and trade programs.***
These actions demonstrate that the United States – one of the world’s largest carbon emitters – is tackling its carbon pollution. Whether or not a country has a carbon price does mean it is not taking other actions to curb emissions. For example, over 100 countries around the world have renewable energy targets and policies.
However, it must be recognised that regulatory steps to curb emissions also impose economic costs. Regulation risks greater inefficiency and therefore higher costs than a carbon price, which applies a transparent cost to pollution production and allows the market and business to develop the most appropriate solutions.
Moreover, while this step is important, and signals the reality of a world moving toward clean energy, all major emitters – including the United States - need to take additional steps if we are to avoid dangerous climate change.
For more information
Erwin Jackson | Deputy CEO, The Climate Institute | 03 9600 4039
* Natural Resources Defense Council staff blog, ‘Cleaner Power Starts Today: EPA Proposes Carbon Pollution Standard for New Power Plants’ [webpage] http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/ddoniger/cleaner_power_starts_today_epa.html
** EPA, ‘EPA and NHTSA Propose to Extend the National Program to Reduce Greenhouse Gases and Improve Fuel Economy for Cars and Trucks’, Regulatory Announcement EPA-420-F-11-038, November 2011
*** California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board, ‘Cap-and-Trade Program’ [webpage], http://www.arb.ca.gov/cc/capandtrade/capandtrade.htm