EPA Moves to Cut CO2

Climate Change: Move provokes coal supporters but gives push to treaty talks

Jeff Johnson

The Environmental Protection Agency this year proposed two regulations to lower carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants—one for existing units and one for new plants. Both are hotly contested by coal industry supporters in Congress and states. But internationally, the action is viewed as an important move by the U.S. in support of a new global pact to combat climate change.

The Jim Bridger Plant in Wyoming burns coal to generate electricity. Credit: Jim Urquhart/Reuters/Newscom

The Jim Bridger Plant in Wyoming burns coal to generate electricity.
Credit: Jim Urquhart/Reuters/Newscom

For existing power plants, EPA proposed requiring state governments to develop plans by 2016 to cut CO2 emissions from coal-fired plants within their borders. Under this plan, CO2 emissions from coal-fired plants would drop by 30% from 2005 emission levels by 2030.

For new power plants, EPA has proposed specific CO2 emissions caps for natural-gas- and coal-fired power plants. Large, modern gas plants can meet the proposed limit without new equipment, but conventional coal-fired power plants would have to use carbon capture and sequestration technologies to do so.

Members of Congress from coal states strongly oppose the proposals and have introduced legislation and mounted a public relations front to block EPA. The fight is likely to intensify next year in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

But globally, the proposals are seen as an indicator that the U.S., historically the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, is serious about cutting CO2 releases. It shows support for ongoing negotiations on a new international treaty that is to include emission controls for all countries. Those talks are scheduled to culminate in December 2015.

Driving this action is growing concern about human-caused climate change. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) late last year and earlier this year released new scientific reports about the issue. Human influence on the climate system is clear, IPCC says, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are having widespread impacts on human and natural systems.

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