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EPA proposes emissions limits for new power plants

Following through on President Barack Obama’s climate strategy, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today proposed greenhouse gas regulations that would effectively ban coal-fired power plants unless they are equipped to capture and sequester a portion of their carbon dioxide emissions.

The proposed regulations come 18 months after the agency released its initial regulatory proposal, which encountered intense opposition from electric utilities. Although the new standards provide a little extra leeway and flexibility, the agency basically stuck to its guns regarding new coal plants, which would need to capture 40-60% of their emissions in order to meet the new standard. Utilities have said the regulations would effectively ban new coal-fired plants by requiring the installation of immature and expensive technology, but EPA administrator Gina McCarthy argued the opposite today.

“CCS is a technology that is feasible, and it is available today,” McCarthy said. “I believe this proposal, rather than killing future coal, actually sets out a certain pathway forward for coal to continue to be part of the diverse mix in this country.”

Under the proposed standard, large natural gas plants would be allowed to emit up to 454 kilograms of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour, while coal-fired plants would be limited to 499 kilograms of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour. Alternatively, utilities could opt for additional flexibility as they bring new coal plants on line if they agree to meet a stricter standard — 476 kilograms per megawatt hour — averaged across the first seven years of operation.

The EPA will accept public comments on the proposal for 60 days. Utilities criticized the proposed regulation and warned that it would be challenged in court, while environmentalists generally praised the announcement as a step in the right direction.

President Obama also called on the EPA to regulate emissions from existing power plants, which are responsible for about a third of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. McCarthy underscored that initiative and said the EPA is now working with industry as well as local and state officials to craft a proposal, which will be released as scheduled next June.


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