The fight to clean up power plants

EPA acts to lower climate-disrupting emissions from new power plants

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Anna Lubovedskaya / istockphoto.com

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In spite of the risks to our planet, the U.S. currently has no national limits on carbon pollution from fossil fuel fired power plants.

That may soon change, though: In September 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency released draft carbon pollution standards that will for the first time ever limit climate-disrupting pollution from new power plants. 

On January 8, 2014 those proposed standards were officially published in the Federal Register.

A critical juncture for climate action

“As communities across our country struggle with terrible floods, droughts, and wildfires, these standards will finally put a limit on the carbon pollution that new power plants emit into our skies," said EDF President Fred Krupp. "Cleaner power generation will protect our children from dangerous smog, extreme weather, and other serious climate impacts, and ensure that America leads the world in the race to develop cleaner, safer power technologies."

This historic announcement comes at a critical juncture in the fight for climate action. During the summer of 2013, President Obama laid out a comprehensive Climate Action Plan

Shortly afterward, Gina McCarthy was finally confirmed as EPA Administrator, after a months-long battle with the opposition—thanks in part to the 96,777 EDF activists who stood up on her behalf. 

EPA proposed similar standards in March of 2012 and has revised them in response to public comment. 

EPA has also proposed national limits on the carbon pollution for new gas plants. EPA’s new emissions performance standards are similar to clean air standards adopted by states across the country.

Extreme weather takes it toll

The National Climate Data Center reports that the U.S. experienced 12 climate disasters each causing more than a billion dollars of damage in 2012, including a yearlong drought and widespread crop failure in 22 states, western wildfires that burned over 9.2 million acres, and Hurricane Sandy, which devastated major population centers in the Northeast. 

Climate change is of course not the sole cause of such events, but it is a contributing factor. Scientists say these impacts will affect American communities with increasing frequency and severity as climate-destabilizing emissions continue to accumulate in the atmosphere.  

Heat-trapping carbon dioxide to blame

U.S. power plants emit approximately 2.3 billion tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide pollution each year, 40% of the carbon pollution emitted in the United States.  The average coal fired power plant emits 3.5 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year—and the average retirement age of these plants is 50 years. 

A wide variety of solutions are available today to meet our nation’s energy needs under the proposed standards, including more efficient use of energy, renewable energy, highly efficient natural gas plants, and coal plants that permanently capture and store carbon pollution. 

In 2012, wind energy topped all other resources in new capacity additions deployed in the U.S.  Today's proposal will provide power companies with the certainty they need to invest now-sidelined resources in cleaner, safer and more efficient solutions to meet U.S. electricity needs – creating jobs in the process.

The new EPA proposal will likely be met with resistance from some industry leaders and members of Congress. But you can help.

How you can help end dirty energy

The EPA has proposed a landmark standard for climate pollution from new power plants. This standard will help end dirty energy as we know it today.

We know that industry leaders and their friends in Congress will be attacking it at any moment—and we need our voices to rise up louder than theirs.

Take Action: Be a part of history and help us reach our 100,000 comment goal!

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The sooner we get these protections in place, the clearer the signal [will be] that new power plants must do their fair share in addressing the heavy burden of carbon pollution on human health and the environment."

Vickie Patton Vickie Patton EDF General Counsel

Hear Vickie's interview
on NPR's Morning Edition