Proposed Standard for Carbon Pollution from Power Plants

In March of 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a new carbon pollution standard for new power plants.  It will be the first Clean Air Act standard that addresses carbon pollution from power plants.  The proposal stemmed from a 2007 Supreme Court ruling and a 2009 study conducted by the EPA that determined that pollution from greenhouse gases causes long lasting changes to our environment which in turn threaten American’s health and welfare.

According to the EPA, power plants are the largest source of carbon pollution in the United States so it seems long overdue that a carbon pollution national limit is set on the amount of allowable carbon pollution from power plants.  The proposed rule will only apply to new power plants being built in the future and will not pertain to existing units or units that will begin construction in the next 12 months.

“Today we’re taking a common-sense step to reduce pollution in our air, protect the planet for our children, and move us into a new era of American energy,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “Right now there are no limits to the amount of carbon pollution that future power plants will be able to put into our skies – and the health and economic threats of a changing climate continue to grow. We’re putting in place a standard that relies on the use of clean, American made technology to tackle a challenge that we can’t leave to our kids and grandkids.”

More specifically, the rule would apply to new fossil-fuel-fired electric utility generating units (EGUs).  These EGUs include fossil-fuel-fired boilers, integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) units and stationary combined cycle turbine units that generate electricity for sale and are larger than 25 megawatts (MW).

The proposed rule would require that all new fossil-fuel-fired power plant units meet a standard of 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour (lb CO2/MWh gross) or less.  The EPA predicts that new natural gas power plant units should be able to meet the standard without any additional controls, while coal or petroleum coke power plant units would need to use additional technology to meet the standard such as carbon capture and storage.

The EPA is doing a couple things to make meeting the standard a bit easier.  For example, new power plants that incorporate carbon capture and storage technology will have the option of meeting a 30-year average standard for CO2 emissions as opposed to the annual standard.  This would allow plants that utilize this technology to emit more CO2 in the early years after installing the technology in order to best optimize the controls.

The public comment period ended on June 25, 2012, so further actions from the EPA are expected soon.  To learn more about the proposed rule, click here.

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