WASHINGTON - The Obama administration today will roll out a plan to cut pollution from power plants by 30 percent by 2030, setting in motion one of the most significant actions to address greenhouse gases in U.S. history.
The rule, which is expected to be final next year, will set the first national limits on carbon dioxide from the nation's power plants. They are the largest source of greenhouse gases in the U.S., accounting for about a third of the annual emissions.
The regulation is a centerpiece of President Barack Obama's plans to reduce the pollution linked to his belief in global warming, a step that the administration hopes will get other countries to act when negotiations on a new international treaty resume next year.
President Barack Obama speaks at Georgetown University in Washington about limiting greenhouse gas emissions from the power plants in 2013.
"The purpose of this rule is to really close the loophole on carbon pollution, reduce emissions as we've done with lead, arsenic and mercury and improve the health of the American people and unleash a new economic opportunity," said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has drafted a plan that informed the EPA proposal.
Yet the rule carries significant political and legal risks, by further diminishing coal's role in producing U.S. electricity. Once the dominant source of energy in the U.S., coal now supplies just under 40 percent of the nation's electricity, as it has been replaced by booming supplies of natural gas and renewable sources such as wind and solar.
Hal Quinn, president of the National Mining Association, said Sunday that the regulation is "really designed to drive out low-cost electricity and replace it with higher-cost, more expensive and less reliable electricity."
The White House said Obama called a group of Democrats from both the House and Senate on Sunday to thank them for their support in advance of the rule's official release, which is expected to be rigorously opposed by Republicans and make Democrats up for re-election in energy-producing states nervous.
Environmental Protection Agency data shows that the nation's power plants have reduced carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 13 percent since 2005, or about halfway to the goal the administration will set today.
But with coal-fired power plants already beleaguered by cheap natural gas prices and other environmental regulations, experts on Sunday said getting there won't be easy.
The EPA is expected to offer a range of options to states to meet targets that will based on where they get their electricity and how much carbon dioxide they emit in the process.
The options include making power plants more efficient, reducing the frequency at which coal-fired power plants supply power to the grid, and investing in more renewable, low-carbon sources of energy. In addition, states could enhance programs aimed at reducing demand by making households and businesses more energy-efficient.
Obama has already tackled the emissions from the nation's cars and trucks, announcing rules to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by doubling fuel economy. That standard will reduce carbon dioxide by more than 2 billion tons over the life of vehicles made in model years 2012-25.
The power plant proposal will prevent about 430 million tons of carbon dioxide from reaching the atmosphere, based on the 30 percent figure and what power plants have already reduced since 2005.
The EPA refused to confirm the details of the proposal Sunday. People familiar with the proposal shared the details on condition of anonymity.