US EPA Proposes 30% Emission Reductions from Power Plants by 2030

EPA2 June 2014: The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed regulations requiring existing coal-fired power plants to reduce their emissions. The Clean Power Plan is a flexible proposal aimed at ensuring a healthier environment, spurring innovation and strengthening the economy, which, for the first time, cuts carbon pollution from existing power plants, the single largest source of such pollution in the US. The plan is expected to protect public health and fight climate change while supplying reliable and affordable power.

While power plants comprise roughly one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, no national limits on carbon pollution levels exist. Thus, the Clean Power Plan includes guidelines that build on trends already taking place at the state level to make power plants more efficient and less polluting.

By 2030, the EPA is proposing to: cut emissions from the power sector by 30% below 2005 levels; cut particle pollution, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide by more than 25% as a co-benefit; avoid up to 6,600 premature deaths, 150,000 asthma attacks in children and 490,000 missed work or school days, which would provide up to US$93 billion in climate and public health benefits; and shrink electricity bills by approximately 8% by increasing energy efficiency and reducing electricity demand. The EPA estimates the plan will cost the economy US$7.3 to US$8.8 billion annually but will lead to benefits of US$55 to US$93 billion, primarily by preventing premature deaths and mitigating respiratory diseases.

The Clean Power Plan will be implemented through a state-federal partnership, in which states will determine a path forward using either current or new electricity production and pollution control policies to meet the proposed goals. The proposal gives states the flexibility to: design programs that make the most sense for them; choose the right generation mix using diverse fuels, energy efficiency and demand-side management; and work alone to develop individual plans or work together with other states to develop multi-state plans. The proposal also includes a flexible timeline for states to submit their plans to the EPA, with the option of a two-step process for submitting final plans beyond the June 2016 deadline if more time is needed.

Currently, 47 states have utilities that run demand-side energy efficiency programs, 38 have renewable portfolio standards or goals, and 10 have market-based GHG emissions programs.

In a statement, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the initiative, calling it "a significant step toward reducing global GHG emissions that are disrupting the climate, exacerbating extreme weather patterns, and threatening human health, sustainable economic growth and development."

Welcoming the Obama Administration's announcement, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres said the decision to more tightly regulate emissions from power plants would send a good signal to all countries that one of the world's biggest emitters is “taking the future of the planet seriously.” She added that it is also a good signal for the UN Secretary General's Climate Summit in September and towards securing a new and meaningful climate agreement in 2015. [UN Press Release] [US EPA Press Release] [Clean Power Plan Proposed Rules] [Figueres' Statement] [Ban's Statement]