WASHINGTON - Linking global warming to public health, disease and extreme weather, the Obama administration pressed ahead today with tough requirements to limit carbon pollution from new power plants, despite protests from industry and from Republicans that it would mean a dim future for coal.
The proposal, which sets the first national limits on heat-trapping pollution from future power plants, would help reshape where Americans get electricity, moving from a coal-dependent past into a future fired by cleaner sources of energy. It's also a key step in President Barack Obama's global warming plans, because it would help end what he called "the limitless dumping of carbon pollution" from power plants.
Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy said in a speech this morning to announce the proposal that, rather than damage an industry, the proposed regulations would help the industry to grow.
Construction of new power plants like American Electric Power’s Kammer Plant in Moundsville will be banned under new rules unveiled today by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
McCarthy pressed her case by linking global warming to a suite of environmental problems, from severe weather to disease to worsening other types of air pollution.
"We know this is not just about melting glaciers," McCarthy said. "Climate change - caused by carbon pollution - is one of the most significant public health threats of our time. That's why EPA has been called to action."
However, because the proposal deals with only new power plants it will have a limited effect on global emissions of heat-trapping pollution. A separate standard for the existing fleet of power plants, the largest source of carbon pollution, is due next summer.
Reaction from federal lawmakers to today's action by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to impose tougher requirements to limit carbon pollution from new power plants.
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.
"EPA's action strikes at the core of West Virginia and is yet another sign that this administration simply doesn't care about the hard working men and women who earn their living in the coal industry, doesn't care about providing reliable and affordable energy to power the national economy for years to come, and doesn't care about harming the very fabric of communities across our state. ... We must take into account the economic impact of government regulations on local communities, and we should not take an action that hinders our nation's ability to compete globally.
Capito said she introduced on Thursday "the Ensure Reliable and Affordable American Energy Act. My bill would delay the implementation of these new EPA regulations until other countries comprising at least 80 percent of non-U.S. global carbon dioxide emissions enact regulations that are at least as stringent as EPA's new standards. Blocking the use of our domestic coal reserves while our global competitors use our coal to power their own economic growth means that America will be forced to compete globally with one arm tied behind our back. West Virginians know that an energy economy is a jobs economy and our state will unite to fight the administration tooth and nail."
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
"Today's announcement ... is direct evidence that this administration is trying to hold the coal industry to impossible standards. Never before has the federal government forced an industry to do something that is technologically impossible. Forcing coal to meet the same emissions standards as gas when experts know that the required technology is not operational on a commercial scale makes absolutely no sense and will have devastating impacts to the coal industry and our economy.
"If these regulations go into effect, American jobs will be lost, electricity prices will soar, and economic uncertainty will grow. We need the federal government to work as a partner, not an adversary, and to invest in America's energy future. I will continue to fight EPA overreach, just as I did as governor, to protect the reliable, affordable energy and the good-paying jobs that coal-fired power plants provide in West Virginia and across this country."
Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va.
"The Obama Administration and EPA have imposed revised regulations on new coal-fired power plants that, simply put, cannot be achieved. The technology required by this rule is not commercially viable. Even the EPA has admitted this. Despite that, the EPA is moving forward with a regulation that will eventually remove the largest source of America's electricity. This will lead to higher electricity costs for millions and thousands of lost jobs."
"Regulations based on ideology and imposing standards on coal plants that they admit can't be achieved is not fair. As a result of these extensive regulations, manufacturers will continue to locate elsewhere where energy costs are more affordable and dependable, and Americans can expect to pay more for their electric bills."
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.
"I've always said that any clean coal policy must, at its core, have the interests of miners and their families in mind - and that new technology is the best and only way to secure their future. The EPA's new carbon emission plan includes tough requirements for future coal-fired power plants and pushes us hard toward clean coal technologies that have great potential but are not yet deployed at full-scale, and are difficult to finance. These rules will only work if we act now to strengthen our investment in clean coal technology and to advance public-private partnerships more seriously than ever. ... This rule is undeniably a daunting challenge, but it's also a call to action. West Virginia and America have overcome far greater technological obstacles than this one, and I refuse to believe we can't do it again."
Despite some tweaks, the rule packs the same punch as one announced last year, which was widely criticized by industry and by Republicans as effectively banning any new coal-fired power plants.
That's because to meet the standard, new coal-fired power plants would need to install expensive technology to capture carbon dioxide and bury it underground. No coal-fired power plant has done that yet, in large part because of the cost.
Coal, which is already struggling to compete with cheap natural gas, accounts for 40 percent of U.S. electricity, a share that was already shrinking. And natural gas would need no additional pollution controls to comply.
"It is clear that the EPA is continuing to move forward with a strategy that will write off our huge, secure, affordable coal resources by essentially outlawing the construction of new coal plants," said Bruce Josten, the vice president for government affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.