Here Come the First Greenhouse Gas Limits on Power Plants

Ulrich Joho/CC BY-SA 2.0

Word is in that the EPA's long-awaited rules on greenhouse gas emissions are finally going to be unveiled this week. The Washington Post reports:

The Environmental Protection Agency will issue the first limits on greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants as early as Tuesday, according to several people briefed on the proposal. The move could end the construction of new conventional coal-fired facilities in the United States.

The proposed rule — years in the making and approved by the White House after months of review — will require any new power plant to emit no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt of electricity produced. The average U.S. natural gas plant, which emits between 800 and 850 pounds of CO2 per megawatt, meets that standard; coal plants emit an average of 1,768 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt.

This is, of course, big news. And it's sure to cause a political shitstorm, as Romney, Santorum, and the GOP establishment will inevitably rush to proclaim the rules draconian and job-killing. We may even get some off-the-cuff climate denial from Inhofe and Santorum.

But the fact is, these rules are long overdue. The Supreme Court made its landmark decision that carbon dioxide could be regulated as a pollutant in 2007, the EPA announced it would crack down on GHGs in 2009, and it has taken since then for the agency to get its regulations approved by the White House. Obama promised from the start that if Congress couldn't pass a more market-driven approach to rein in carbon emissions, then he'd have to resort to regulation—which is no doubt going to be difficult. But do bear in mind that these rules only impact new power plants; another set of rules is still in the wings for existing ones. And that's the one that will really get the right fired up.

The timing of the announcement is nonetheless curious, however—though it is of course a welcome development. But Obama has already punted the rules down the road a number of times. Why unveil them now, when Republicans are in full-bore attack mode regarding his energy policy. Is this an argument he thinks he can win with the public (and it is indeed, according to polls, but he's never shown the gumption to try before), or is he hoping the announcement will fall into the background behind the health care ruckus?

Regardless, we should have been phasing out coal fifteen years ago. Modern society still runs on the dirty, polluting energy regime of the past—and if we want to have a chance in hell of evading the worst impacts of climate change, we need to embrace clean power. Fast.

We'll be following this one closely, and will be posting as we learn more ...

Tags: Carbon Dioxide | Carbon Emissions | Carbon Footprint | EPA