by Judith Curry
The Obama administration proposed on Tuesday the first ever standards to cut carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants, a move likely to be hotly contested by Republicans and industry in an election year.
A short summary is provided by this article in CNBC:
The Environmental Protection Agency proposed the long-delayed rules that limit emissions from all new U.S. power stations, which would effectively bar the building of any new coal plants.
While the rules do not dictate which fuels a plant can burn, they would require any new coal plants essentially to halve carbon dioxide emissions to match those of efficient gas plants.
Republicans have already turned to the courts to forestall other EPA measures they say will drive up power costs for homeowners and businesses that are struggling to recover from the weak economy. Some Democrats from energy-intensive states are also likely to oppose the rules.
Under the rules, coal plants could add equipment to capture and bury underground for permanent storage their carbon emissions. The rules would likely give any new coal plants time to get those systems running, by requiring that they average the emissions cuts over decades.
The EPA is moving forward on the climate rules, which do not need to be approved by Congress, after a wide-ranging climate bill died in the Senate in 2010.
The EPA is the main tool the Obama administration has left to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet goals agreed at global forums to battle climate change.
But the agency’s moves are also met by challenges by industry in the courts and have been under withering criticism from Republicans, who have made environmental regulations a big campaign theme ahead of the November elections.
The green movement is key part of President Barack Obama’s base and the administration has tried to walk a tightrope with its “all of the above” energy strategy that includes tougher energy regulations and support for renewable energy.
The rules are expected to affect only new plants, not modified plants, which would be a concession to industry. Existing plants would not be included, but the new proposals could set the stage for the EPA to regulate them in the coming years.
Time blogs has an article Climate Rules: Why natural gas will be the big winner in greenhouse gas regulations. Excerpts:
Ever since comprehensive climate legislation died of neglect in the U.S. Senate in 2010, environmentalists have looked to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to step in and save the day. According to the Supreme Court, the agency has the power—and the responsibility—to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act if the EPA decided climate change posed a threat to public health, which it did under the Obama Administration. Direct greenhouse gas regulations were always considered a second-best route to curb climate change, and one the White House was loathe to pursue given the political ramifications among conservatives, but once cap-and-trade legislation died, it was just a matter of time.
Now that time has come. Juliet Elperin of the Washington Post broke the news last night that the Obama Administration is set to unveil the first federal standards to limit greenhouse-gas emissions from electric power plants, the biggest source of climate pollution. “This is an important common sense step to tackling the very real threat of climate change,” said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in a conference call with reporters that officially announced the rules. “These are smart regulations that build on what the industry is doing.”
But the rules will only apply to new power plants, which means all existing plants—including hundreds of coal-fired power stations that release significant amounts of carbon dioxide—will be exempt from the new rules. And while the regulations could sound the death knell for new coal power in the U.S.—already under pressure from tougher EPA regulations on traditional air pollutants—the winner from the rules might be another fossil fuel: natural gas.
Indeed, while we can all gird ourselves for a political war over these regulations, the reality is that they may not make much of a difference. Existing Clean Air Act rules and the shale gas revolution—yes, fracking—already made new coal plants uneconomical. The greenhouse gas rules only solidify those facts. A braver EPA would have tackled the enormous problem of existing coal plants now, but understandably the Obama Administration has little stomach for that fight—especially in an election year. “Today’s rule only applies to new plants,” said Jackson. “We don’t have plans to address existing plants,” she added, saying that any additional regulations would have to go through open public debate.
It’s true that under the Clean Air Act the EPA eventually has a responsibility to tackle carbon emissions from existing power plant, and the EPA is working with environmentalists, industry and states on just how those rules will work. But don’t expect anything to happen before the November elections—and if a Republican takes the White House, expect the momentum to halt all together. Politically, the EPA has no virtually no other choice. But don’t think that these regulations will make much of a dent in climate change which—as scientists meeting this week in London declared—appears to be moving towards a disastrous tipping point. (And while coal consumption may be down in the U.S., it is up, up, up in rapidly growing China.) Today’s rules are much better news for natural gas than for the climate.
Power Mag has an article EPA greenhouse rule: going for the capillaries. Some excerpts:
JC comment: I think Power Mag has it right, this won’t make much difference to what is already happening, but this provides much fodder for political posturing on both sides.