air pollutionThe EPA today unveiled a plan to reduce carbon pollution from power plants by 30 percent over the next 15 years – a move which is sure to meet with stiff opposition from the coal industry.

Coal-fired power plants account for roughly one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. While there are limits in place for the level of arsenic, mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particle pollution that power plants can emit, there are currently no national limits on carbon pollution levels.

States must submit plans

The Clean Power Plan is the first to target existing power plants. States will be given primary responsibility for meeting the goals, with a June 2016 deadline for submitting plans to the agency and an option to use a two-step process for submitting final plans if more time is needed.

“States that have already invested in energy efficiency programs will be able to build on these programs during the compliance period to help make progress toward meeting their goal,” according to the EPA.

The EPA is stressing the public health benefits of the plan.

“Climate change, fueled by carbon pollution, supercharges risks to our health, our economy and our way of life,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said Monday. “This plan will clean the air we breathe while helping slow climate change so we can leave a safe and healthy future for our kids.”

The proposal stems from President Obama's Climate Action Plan and the June 2013 Presidential Memorandum.

 The EPA says that by 2030:

  • Cut carbon emission from the power sector by 30 percent nationwide below 2005 levels, which is equal to the emissions from powering more than half the homes in the United States for one year;
  • Particle pollution, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide will be reduced by more than 25 percent
  • Upto 6,600 premature deaths, up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children, and up to 490,000 missed work or school days will be averted—providing up to $93 billion in climate and public health benefits
  • Electricity bills will be cut by roughly 8 percent 

The Clean Power Plan will be implemented through a state-federal partnership under which states identify a path forward using either current or new electricity production and pollution control policies to meet the goals of the proposed program. The proposal provides guidelines for states to develop plans to meet state-specific goals to reduce carbon pollution and gives them the flexibility to design a program that makes the most sense for their unique situation. States can choose the right mix of generation using diverse fuels, energy efficiency and demand-side management to meet the goals and their own needs. It allows them to work alone to develop individual plans or to work together with other states to develop multi-state plans.

To date, 47 states have utilities that run demand-side energy efficiency programs, 38 have renewable portfolio standards or goals, and 10 have market-based greenhouse gas emissions programs – an approach, the EPA says, that promotes a greater reliance on lower-carbon power sources.

Comment period

The EPA will accept comment on the proposal for 120 days after publication in the Federal Register and will hold four public hearings on the proposed Clean Power Plan during the week of July 28 in the following cities: Denver, Atlanta, Washington, DC and Pittsburgh.  Based on this input, EPA will finalize standards next June following the schedule laid out in the June 2013 Presidential Memorandum.

Industry opposition

“If these rules are allowed to go into effect, the administration for all intents and purposes is creating America’s next energy crisis,” said Mike Duncan, president and CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. “These guidelines represent a complete disregard for our country’s most vital fuel sources, like American coal.”

100,000 asthma attacks in one year

Dr. Georges Benjamin, Executive Director of the American Public Health Association (APHA), called the proposal "a critical and necessary step" for protecting public health.

“Already we are seeing the harmful and sometimes very serious consequences of climate change. Our nation’s overall welfare has been compromised by rises in preventable respiratory illness, cardiovascular ailments and water- and insect-borne disease resulting directly from climate change — including extreme heat and weather events — along with greater mental health challenges. Our most vulnerable communities, including children, older adults, those with chronic health conditions and low-income families, are at greatest risk. The costs don’t stop at our health — they include the rebuilding, recovery and emergency preparedness costs that our nation simply cannot afford.

“Today’s EPA proposal does something unprecedented: guaranteeing lower levels of carbon emissions, which will reduce threats to public health. The proposal will cut carbon pollution, smog and soot, and in its first year will prevent up to 100,000 asthma attacks and 2,100 heart attacks.

Fact sheets and details about the proposed rule available at:

More information on President Obama’s Climate Action Plan:

Video on today’s announcement from Administrator Gina McCarthy: