A Stronger America: Cutting Carbon Pollution from Power Plants and Cleaner, Safer Energy

May 27, 2014
Sharyn Stein, 202-572-3396, sstein@edf.org

America’s fleet of fossil fueled power plants is the single largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S. and one of the largest in the world.

The Carbon Pollution Standards, which are expected to be announced next week, will finally put national limits on the amount of carbon pollution emitted by fossil fuel fired power plants.

The Carbon Pollution Standards for future and existing power plants are urgently needed, have broad-based support, and can ensure that America forges a strong and prosperous clean energy economy.

EPA has indicated that each state will have the flexibility to design a tailored, cost-effective plan to secure the needed emission reductions from existing plants.

Here are more facts you should know about the Carbon Pollution Standards:

Americans strongly support climate action. Public polling has found that:

  • 64% of Americans believe the government should limit greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants to address climate change and improve public health.
  • 61% of Americans said developing sources of clean energy should be a high or very high priority for the President and Congress.
  • More than half of small business owners support limiting carbon pollution from existing power plants. Furthermore, this poll indicated that “six in 10 agree expanded use of renewable energy sources can have economic benefits for small-business owners.”

The impacts of climate disasters across the United States in recent years are staggering, and they are expected to intensify with climate change:

  • In 2013, there were seven climate disasters each costing more than $1 billion, including, devastating floods in Colorado and extreme drought in Western states. 
  • The 2014 National Climate Assessment (NCA) predicts that heavy precipitation events and flooding will intensify in many U.S. regions, causing deaths, destroying infrastructure, and exacerbating waterborne and airborne illnesses.
  • The NCA also finds that sea-level rise will threaten power plants and energy infrastructure on both coasts and interrupt shipping and other transportation.
  • Temperature increases, precipitation extremes, and weeds, insects, and diseases are expected to have increasingly negative impacts on crops and livestock, while wildfires, drought, insect infestations, and disease outbreaks damage our nation’s forests.
  • The toll on public health will increase as air quality worsens. Warming is projected to make existing smog worse, leading to hospital admissions and emergency room visits for asthma attacks and premature deaths — potentially more than 4,000 per year by 2050.
  • A recent study found that, as temperatures rise, summertime surface ozone (which creates smog) will increase over most of the U.S. by 2050. Smoke from wildfires will also trigger asthma attacks, chest pain, pulmonary disease, and respiratory infections, and cost thousands of lives annually.

The hidden cost of dirty energy is too high, while clean energy is prospering:

  • Americans are paying the hidden cost of coal pollution, while coal plants get a free ride. Coal plant pollution causes asthma attacks, heart attacks, and premature deaths. A study from Harvard estimates that generating electricity from coal costs Americans $330 to $500 billion every single year. In fact, another study found that the damages caused by coal plants are more than double (and as much as five times greater) than the economic value of coal generation in the economy.
  • Between 2008 and 2012, wind generation in the United States increased by more than 330 percent. The average of residential electricity prices in the top ten wind-producing states is 8% below the average of nationwide electricity prices for the contiguous United States. (read more here and here)
  • In 2012, rooftop solar panels cost approximately one percent of what they did 35 years ago. Since 2008, as the cost of a solar module dropped from $3.40 per watt to 80 cents per watt, solar deployment has jumped by about 10 times.

Carbon pollution standards will provide regulatory certainty to power companies that are making medium- and long-term investment decisions now – decisions that have enormous environmental and economic implications for our future.  

Strong standards will also help lock in the carbon reductions we have already achieved, ensure we stay on the path to a cleaner energy economy, and help address the significant negative public health and environmental effects of generating energy from dirtier fuel sources.

Americans are already paying for those negative effects as pollution damages their health, security, and welfare. It is long past time to stop giving the biggest sources of carbon pollution in this country a free pass.

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