The EPA's proposed limits on greenhouse-gas emissions from new power plants would require new plants to emit no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt of electricity produced. The average U.S. natural-gas plant emits 800 to 850 pounds of CO2 per megawatt; coal plants emit an average of 1,768 pounds of carbon dioxide...
WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency will issue the first limits on greenhouse-gas emissions from new power plants as early as Tuesday, according to several people briefed on the proposal. The move could end the construction of new conventional coal-fired facilities in the United States.
The proposed rule — years in the making and approved by the White House after months of review — will require any new power plant to emit no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt of electricity produced. The average U.S. natural-gas plant emits 800 to 850 pounds of CO2 per megawatt; coal plants emit an average of 1,768 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt.
Industry officials and environmentalists said in interviews that the rule, which comes on the heels of tough new requirements that the Obama administration imposed on mercury emissions and cross-state pollution from utilities within the past year, dooms any proposal to build a new coal-fired plant that does not have costly carbon controls.
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“This standard effectively bans new coal plants,” said Joseph Stanko, who heads government relations at the law firm Hunton and Williams and represents several utility companies. “So I don’t see how that is an ‘all-of-the-above’ energy policy.”
The rule provides an exception for coal plants that are already permitted and beginning construction within a year. There are about 20 coal plants now pursuing permits; two of them are federally subsidized and would meet the new standard with advanced pollution controls.
President Obama does not mention coal as a key component of the nation’s energy supply in speeches about his commitment to exploiting oil and gas reserves and renewable sources.
The proposal does not cover existing plants, although utility companies have announced that they plan to shut down more than 300 boilers, representing more than 42 gigawatts of electricity generation — nearly 13 percent of the nation’s coal-fired electricity — rather than upgrade them with pollution-control technology.
Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said the new rule “captures the end of an era” during which coal provided most of the nation’s electricity. It currently generates about 40 percent of U.S. electricity.
The power sector accounts for 40 percent of the nation’s greenhouse-gas emissions, and Brune said it is “the only place where we’re making significant progress” at curbing greenhouse-gas emissions linked to climate change, adding “at the same time, it’s not sufficient.”
Cheap natural gas is also contributing to the closure of aging coal-fired plants, as many utilities switch over to gas plants, which have about half the carbon emissions.
National Mining Association spokesman Luke Popovich said the proposal shows that Obama is following through on his pledge to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions through means other than legislation.
“After Congress refused to pass carbon caps, the administration insisted there were other ways to skin the cat, and this is another way — by setting a standard deliberately calculated to drive affordable coal out of the electricity market,” Popovich said.
The EPA rule, called the New Source Performance Standard, will be subject to public comment for at least a month before being finalized, but its backers said they were confident that the White House will usher it into law before Obama’s first term ends.