On Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it will delay the final draft of its rule limiting carbon emissions for new power plants until mid-summer.
The EPA claims this delay will allow it to better weigh the concerns of both experts and industry, though it will also allow the agency to keep Republicans from overturning the new regulation, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has sworn to do.
Janet McCabe, the EPA’s acting administrator for air quality, has denied the allegation that pushing the new rule is a stalling tactic. “This is all about the best policy outcome and the appropriate policy outcome for this set of really important environmental and public health standards,” she told The Hill. “That’s what we’re talking about here, that’s how we’re planning our work.”
The rule being pushed to mid-summer is one of three new regulations that forms the EPA’s “Clean Power Plan.” This regulation limits how much carbon a new power plant can emit into the atmosphere: 1,100 pounds per megawatt hour of energy it produces. Currently, the average U.S. power plant pumps 1,700 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere per MWh of energy produced. Natural gas plants that produce over 100 MW would also be restricted to emitting 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour.
This rule would be paired with President Obama’s historic proposal to cut the emissions of existing power plants by 30 percent by 2030. Republicans immediately balked at the proposal on principle, with the fossil fuel industry following suit.
Last year, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded with 95 percent certainty that man-made carbon emissions are impacting the environment, and that to keep the globe from warming above the crucial two degree Celsius threshold by 2100, fossil fuels must be phased out of nations’ energy portfolios.
Reducing U.S. carbon emissions by 30 percent would be a monumental step towards this goal (still much less than is required, according to experts, but a significant step in the right direction for U.S. policy). However, the new rules could very possibly require the shutdown of some 600 coal-fired power plants – America’s cheapest but also dirtiest form of energy generation.
The final rule for new power plants was supposed to be filed on Thursday, but McCabe has said it will now be filed in mid-summer, in time with the EPA’s final rules on limiting CO2 emissions from existing and modified plants.
The newly Republican-controlled Congress had intended to block this new EPA regulation as part of its mandate to dismantle the environmental agency. According to Don Stewart, a McConnell spokesman, Republicans will now try other methods to overturn the regulation. “We will have a diverse approach to the president’s job-killing regulatory overreach,” he told the Washington Times.