By Dina Capiello
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration forged ahead on Tuesday with the first-ever limits on heat-trapping pollution from new power plants, ignoring protests from the industry and Republicans who have said the regulation will raise electricity prices and kill off coal, the dominant U.S. energy source.
But the proposal also fell short of environmentalists’ hopes because it is more lenient than it could have been on coal-fired power, one of the largest sources of the gases blamed for global warming.
“The standard will check the previously uncontrolled amount (of carbon pollution) that power plants … release into our atmosphere,” Lisa Jackson, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday.
Older coal-fired power plants have already been shutting down across the country, thanks to low natural gas prices, demand from China driving up coal’s price and weaker demand for electricity.
But on Tuesday, GOP leaders once again accused the administration of clamping down on cheap, home-grown sources of energy and said the regulation raised questions about the sincerity of President Barack Obama’s pledge for an “all-of-the-above” energy policy.
“This rule is part of the Obama administration’s aggressive plan to change America’s energy portfolio and eliminate coal as a source of affordable, reliable electricity generation,” said Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., who as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee has led the charge against environmental regulations.
The rule announced Tuesday could either derail or jump-start plans for 15 new coal-fired power plants in 10 states, depending on when they start construction. Those that break ground in the next year would be exempt from the new limit. Those that start construction later will have to eventually comply with the rule.
Existing power plants, even if they make changes that increase emissions, would not be covered at all. And new ones would have years to meet the standard and could average their emissions over three decades in order to meet the threshold.
But eventually, all coal-fired power plants would need to install equipment to capture half of their carbon pollution. While not commercially available now, the EPA projects that by 2030, no new coal-fired power plant will be built without carbon capture and storage.
The regulation, which was due to be released last July but has been stuck at the White House since November, stemmed from a settlement with environmental groups and states. The government already controls global warming pollution at the largest industrial sources, has adopted the first-ever standards for new cars and trucks and is working on regulations to reduce greenhouse gases at refineries.
The 10 states with proposed new coal-fired generation that could be covered by the regulation are Texas, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Idaho, Kentucky, Michigan, Georgia, Utah, Wyoming and Kansas.