It’s here! One of the central tenants of the Obama era – The EPA Clean Power Plan—outlines rules which will impose reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Since power generation accounts for 40% of US CO2 emissions, this plan will make a significant difference in reducing pollution. Since we know you have better things to do than wade though all 645 pages, we’ve condensed the most important points here so you can impress your friends and dazzle your co-workers.
What is it?
The EPA proposes a limit on CO2 emissions for each power plant based on its current emissions. This will mean that the power plants will have a rate of CO2 which they can emit for every megawatt hour of energy produced rather than a limit on total tonnage which gives each state some flexibility to meet goals in ways that suit them best so as not to restrict economic development.
The plan is expected to reduce CO2 emissions from 2005 levels by 26% or 27% by 2020 with just a wee improvement over the next decade to 30% by 2030.
What’s all the fuss about?
Republicans are claiming that it will ruin the economy (it won’t, but don’t take our word for it, read a great Grist article here.) And please note that when we say ‘Republicans’ we mean the politicians who are funded by coal industry rather than the average Republican-Americans who overwhelming support a reduction in CO2 emissions. Recent polls show that 70% of Americans agree with CO2 reduction.
“War on coal’ is what the opposition is leading with, claiming that blue-collar coal miners are the target of the EPA Clean Power Plan. Coal accounts for 40% of US power generation but contributes 74% of the CO2 emissions. These coal plants will gave to clean up their act or retire under the new regulations.
Each state will generate its own plan (by June 2016) on how it will conform to the new regulations or they can work together with other states. The plan can take one or more of the suggested approaches to make coal plants more efficient:
- Make coal plants more efficient
- Increase natural gas-burning capacity
- Reduce demand for energy
- Turn to renewables and nuclear to produce energy
Who wins and who loses?
This is definitely bad for coal, but it’s good for natural gas and for renewables. Environmentalists aren’t crazy about the idea that nuclear is also suggested and they would probably like to see greater reductions, but they are happy that some steps are being taken.
While it’s not on par with the 80% reduction we need on 1990 levels by 2050 in order to avert climate change apocalypse, it is a significant improvement and will possibly allow Obama to honor his 2009 Copenhagen commitment of a reduction from 2005 levels of 17% by 2020.
While the EPA Clean Power Plan will affect the mining industry, there are a plethora of environmental benefits. Coal burning releases toxins such as mercury and sulfur which cause respiratory and neurological problems. Obama: “In just the first year that these standards go into effect, up to 100,000 asthma attacks and 2,100 heart attacks will be avoided — and those numbers will go up from there.”
Will this ruin the economy?
Projected increases in costs will be less than the price of a gallon of milk for each household and aren’t likely to cause industries to jump ship. Job losses will be sustained in the coal industry, but these are expected to be offset by job creation in construction and clean energy.
A reduction of costs for respiratory and other ailments that result from pollution will save money on healthcare and improve worker productivity through reduced sick days. The EPA predicts that the economic value of a healthier population could outweigh the increased energy costs by a factor of 10.
While Republicans will move to block legislation, the Supreme Court has already ruled that the EPA is obliged to regulate CO2 emissions under the Clean Air Act.