Obama Administration proposes new carbon standards for power plants

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2 June 2014

NEW YORK: Today, the Obama Administration will propose new standards limiting carbon emissions from US power plants – the centerpiece of Obama’s Climate Action Plan. Power plants currently account for about 40% of total US carbon emissions.

It was reported on Sunday that the new standards would require the nation’s power sector to cut carbon emissions by up to 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), US power sector emissions have already fallen by 15% since 2005.  

Power plants in each state would be given flexibility to determine how they will make the cuts, including by adopting efficiency measures, fuel switching, or even by joining regional cap and trade programs.

The EPA will take comments on the proposed rule over the next year, issuing a final version in 2015.  States will then have until June 2016 to decide how they plan to implement it.

Amy Davidsen, Executive Director of The Climate Group, North America said: “New fuel efficiency standards are helping the US cut emissions from the transport sector, and it’s time to do the same for the power sector. Reducing carbon pollution in a cost-effective way creates substantial health and climate benefits for Americans. Given Congress’ unwillingness to act on this opportunity, we applaud the Administration for taking this critical step.”

US carbon emissions have recently fallen to about 11% below 2005 levels, due to the economic recession, greater fuel efficiency in cars and trucks, and power plants switching from coal to cheap natural gas.

The Obama Administration expects that the new standard, along with additional measures to reduce methane and HFC emissions, will enable the US to meet it’s short-term GHG emission reduction target of 17% below 2005 levels by 2020.

Mark Kenber, CEO of The Climate Group said: “A successful international climate agreement requires countries to deliver on their commitments.  This step by the Obama Administration shows that the US government is serious about meeting its near-term climate goals. However, it should be the starting point for far deeper additional actions beyond 2020.”

The new rules are expected to meet with significant challenges over the next few years. Congress may vote to reject them (forcing Obama to use his veto power to keep them alive); or it can make it difficult to implement them by cutting EPA’s budget. More importantly, the rules will be subject to multiple legal challenges, and could ultimately be nullified by the courts.

Evan Juska, Head of US Policy for The Climate Group said: “While this kind of flexible approach enables greater emission reductions at lower cost, it also makes the rule more vulnerable to legal challenges. In finalizing the rule, the key challenge for the Administration will be finding the right balance between ambition and legality.” 

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