EPA announces coal power emissions rule

Lobbyists on both sides of the renewables versus coal-fired power debate in the U.S. will go into overdrive in the next 12 months after today’s announcement by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of a rule limiting carbon emissions from power stations.

In an effort to make concessions to utilities and Republicans throwing their weight behind the economic advantages of the nation’s coal industry, president Barack Obama’s proposed legislation would set diferent emissions reduction targets on a state-by-state basis.

Coal-fired power stations – the worst offenders when it comes to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – are the ones in the firing line of today’s draft rule, which is out for public consultation with the president targeting passage of the proposed rule into law by June 2015, according to a report carried by the New York Times on Sunday.

When averaged out across the 600 or more coal-fired stations in the U.S., the rule would seek to reduce carbon emissions by a quarter of their 2005 levels within six years and by 30% by 2030.

Executive powers

Opponents to the proposed law – being introduced by the president using his executive powers under the 1970 Clean Air Act – say the fact targets will vary by state, and that a range of measures are on offer to power station operators to help them hit the reduction targets, make the legislation vulnerable to a legal challenge.

Under the rule, announced by EPA administrator Gina McCarthy today, power station operators will be able to start or join cap-and-trade schemes – where they cap emissions and trade carbon emission allowances at state or regional levels; ramp up their generation from renewables; and/or increase their use of energy efficiency technology.

Frantic lobbying

With frantic lobbying expected from both sides of the GHG debate in the U.S., plus the fact midterm Congressional elections this year could see Democrats in coal-dependent states opposing the president, president Obama wants the rule implemented within a year, binding states to submit compliance plans to the EPA by June 2016.

Having toughened up the rules governing GHG emissions from vehicles in 2009, the EPA is also working on carbon emission legislation relating to newly-built power stations.

The New York Times reported the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last week announced today’s proposed rule could wipe $50 billion per year off American GDP, if implemented.

The Wall Street Journal said Monday’s announcement would strengthen the hand of U.S. climate change negotiators at the UN general assembly this year, seeking to persuade China and India to introduce their own GHG regulations.

In 2009, Obama pledged to reduce GHG emissions by 17% of their 2005 levels by 2020 and 83% by 2050.