The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed the nation's first carbon pollution standard for new power plants.
Power plants are by far the largest polluter in America. It is estimated the country's 1,500 power facilities release 2.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air every year. In 2007, the Supreme Court decided it was the EPA's responsibility, under the Clean Air Act, to curb power plant pollution. For the past two years the EPA has been working on establishing standards for existing and future power plants.
Today's proposal has no bearing on power plants already in operation or set to begin operations in the next twelve months. The EPA is calling for a output-based standard of 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour (lb CO2/MWh gross) for all new fossil fuel power plants.
The administration claims that new natural gas combined cycle power plants should be able to meet the new requirements without additional add-on controls. Meanwhile, coal or petroleum-based power plants are expected to meet the standard through by implementing new emission control technology, such as carbon capture and storage (CCS).
If passed, the new standard will put further pressure on the coal industry, the current kingpin of America's electricity sector. The industry has been working furiously to develop technology which will mitigate its emissions, but as of yet, its investments in CCS research have not borne any fruit.
Additionally, coal is reeling from the EPAs latest emissions regulations for existing power plants. In July 2011 the Administration passed the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule which requires 27 states in the eastern half of the country to reduce their emissions. The rule calls for power plants to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by 73% and nitrogen oxide emissions by 54% from 2005 levels by 2014.
Last year also saw the EPA propose the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS). MATS is set to come into effect on April 15, 2012. The fallout of these new regulations has been the closure of coal-fired power plants across the nation. GenOn Energy announced in March that it will close eight coal power plants, totalling 13% of its energy portfolio, over the next three years. Meanwhile FirstEnergy Corp. plans to retire three coal-fired power plants that represent 10% of its portfolio.
The EPA will accept comments on its latest proposal for the next 60 days.
Image credit: Chris M via Flickr
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