The Environmental Protection Agency will propose new carbon regulations for power plants by June 2, according to EPA administrator Gina McCarthy. McCarthy also confirmed that President Obama will announce the new rules personally.
“There’s no question that President Obama views this as a legacy issue and he wants to be very directly involved,” said Frank O’Donnel, president of Clean Air Watch, a non-profit advocacy group in Washington. “It sends the signal that this is going to remain a high profile issue for probably the rest of the president’s term.”
This forthcoming announcement will be another salvo in President Obama’s recent blitzkrieg against climate change, beginning earlier this month with the release of the White House’s National Climate Assessment and Obama’s proposed solar energy initiative. Though Congress remains divided on the issue of climate change, proposing EPA regulations is an immediate step that the president may take as the chief executive, a power granted to him under the Clean Air Act.
The details of the new regulations are currently unknown but Ben Adler expects that they will focus on curbing emissions from coal-fired power plants. The regulations will probably differ for new versus existing power plants.
New power plants may be asked to incorporate carbon-capture-and-sequestration (CCS) systems, which prevent carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. This proposal may be so stringent that it prevents new coal plants from being built. For existing plants, Adler predicts that they will be asked to modify their productions along the recommendations in the March 2013 report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). In these cases, restrictions on carbon emissions will be determined by the averages of state utility operations, a more flexible determiner than blanket regulations.
State limits would take individual states’ economics and energy needs into account and still cut 35-40 percent of CO₂ emissions by 2025, according to the NRDC estimate. Coal powered plants would not be forced to shut down but they would need to become cleaner and more efficient. Such a measure would allow states to transition more smoothly into renewables.
The EPA regulations that Obama will announce in the coming weeks will not be set in stone. These will be proposals that Congressional members can weigh in on before the final versions are passed in June 2015. On the surface it seems like a reasonable process, but Ben Adler eloquently strips away that notion:
“[M]uch of the fight over the rules won’t happen within the EPA’s carefully prescribed process. It’ll happen in histrionic political ads and cable news sound bites as conservatives invoke the specter of skyrocketing electric bills and economic collapse to bash vulnerable Democrats ahead of the November elections.”
America will have to wait and see.