Obama Administration Proposes First-Ever Carbon Dioxide Regulations

Obama administration has proposed a new set of rules that, for the first time ever, would strictly regulate carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants, cutting emissions from some plants by as much as half. Power plants currently account for 40 percent of the total carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, and there are no limits or regulations that control how much carbon the plants can burn.

The legislation, called the Carbon Pollution Standard, would mandate that all new coal plants be built to emit no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour. Emission from coal plants that are being built today range from 1,600 to 1,900 pounds per hour, while new natural gas-powered plants emit about 800 pounds per hour. The law won’t apply to existing coal plants, but the federal government is expected to enforce regulations on those plans later.

Next to vehicles, coal-powered plants are one of the largest sources of carbon pollution in the country, and carbon dioxide is the largest contributing polluter to worldwide climate change and global warming. Climate scientists have agreed that, in order to reverse climate change, the level of carbon dioxide needs to be lowered to under 350 parts per million worldwide. As carbon dioxide is released into the air, its tiny particles of polluting material cause respiratory problems and also cause the global temperature to rise, about 1 degree Celsius per year. For each additional degree that the temperature rises, it is thought that carbon dioxide pollution causes as many as 20,000 pollution-related deaths per year.

Although plans to build new coal plants are seldom seen these days, environmental groups still view the proposed legislation as an important step in the right direction, and as a way to address climate change at a national level.

“I think it is a landmark rule, because what this essentially says is we will never be building dirty old coal plants ever again,” Michael Brune of the Sierra Club told the LA Times. “The dominant power source of the 19th and 20th centuries won’t be built the same again.”

“I think the administration releasing a proposed regulation for greenhouse gases for new plants is as strong a signal that anyone can ask for about how seriously they are addressing the threat of climate change,” said Megan Ceronsky, an attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund, told the LA Times.

The mining industry, which supplies the coal used to power the plants, opposes the projected mandate and fears that it will eliminate jobs and slow down the economy – an anxiety expressed by most groups who are opposed to the nation’s progression toward green energy. Switching to cleaner energy, such as solar power, however, will create – and already has created — thousands of new green-collar jobs nationwide.

However, the law already faces opposition from conservationist groups as well. Some environmentalists are afraid that the legislation won’t be enforced, while others think that it isn’t strict enough. Environmental group CREDO Action believes that the proposed Carbon Pollution Standard allows too many loopholes for coal companies to slide through, and that it is not harsh enough in regulating emissions from coal plants. In a petition to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), CREDO Action said, “[I]n today’s actual climate – where much of our country just experienced record-shattering March heat waves after a disturbing lack of winter – it is not nearly enough. It is not only disappointing but profoundly dangerous that this rule does little if anything to effectively reduce unregulated climate pollution … If EPA fails to take action on existing power plants, then the measured progress represented by yesterday’s rule will go down in history as a symbolic though essentially empty gesture.”

CREDO Action’s petition targets the EPA and asks them to add regulations for existing coal plants to the proposed legislation.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/free-stock/6816851232

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