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U.S. Plans Carbon Cuts from Power Plants
June 3, 2014

Woman speaks at podium with people in audience looking on
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy announces the carbon reduction plan for power plants.

By Charlene Porter,
IIP Staff Writer
02 June 2014

The Obama administration is taking action to reduce the amount of carbon sent into the atmosphere by electric power production, the source of about one-third of all domestic greenhouse gases and the single largest source of carbon pollution.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy announced the Clean Power Plan June 2, saying that it aims for a 30 percent cut in carbon pollution from the power sector by 2030. The action, she said, would be equivalent to eliminating the carbon exhaust from two-thirds of the United States’ auto fleet.

Cleaner air also means better health, McCarthy said, and that’s an especially important objective at a time when one in 10 U.S. children suffers from asthma. The Clean Power Plan, when realized, will also achieve economic benefits by steering the nation to a clean-energy economy. She predicted climate and health benefits of $90 billion by 2030.

“For soot and smog reductions alone, that means for every dollar we invest in the plan, families will see $7 in health benefits,” McCarthy told a Washington audience. “When the effects of this plan are in place in 2030, average electricity bills will be 8 percent cheaper.”

EPA calculates that lower emissions levels will prevent up to 6,600 premature deaths from respiratory ailments and up to 150,000 asthma attacks.

Developed with input from experts and citizens, the power plant emissions reduction initiative is a major element of the Climate Action Plan first announced by President Obama in June 2013. He said then — and McCarthy repeated June 2 — that the nation has a “moral obligation” to reduce emissions and lessen the impact of climate change so this generation doesn’t pass on environmental problems to the future.

“When our kids ask us if we did everything we could to leave them a safer, cleaner world, we want to say, yes, we did,” McCarthy said.

Setting an example for other nations through reducing carbon emissions at home is a key element of the Obama administration climate change response. U.S. carbon-reduction actions in transportation and in power production are important contributions to a global solution, McCarthy said.

“We can lead this fight. We can innovate our way to a better future,” the EPA administrator said. “It’s what America does best.”

The international negotiating framework that is working toward global commitments to reduce climate change is set to hammer out a new agreement by 2015. The Obama administration wants to send its negotiating team to those talks with evidence of U.S. actions to lower the nation’s carbon footprint.

Before the announcement of the Clean Power Plan was made, critics and skeptics were warning about how the cost of electricity might rise and how power supply and reliability might be compromised if plants are forced to give up highly emitting fuel sources like coal. McCarthy dismissed these criticisms and reminded her audience that the entire history of U.S. environmental regulation has unfolded amid similar doomsday warnings.

“But the facts are clear. For over four decades, EPA has cut air pollution by 70 percent and the economy has more than tripled,” McCarthy said to applause. “All while providing the power we need to keep America strong.”

Climate change provides scientific and technological challenges that historically have led U.S. innovators and inventors to develop breakthrough solutions. That activity is already underway, McCarthy said. She predicted the emission reduction goals of the Clean Power Plan will give rise to new, imaginative developments in energy efficiency, conservation and production.

The regulation-enactment process requires that the EPA publish the current proposal and receive more public comment and review. A finalized version of the Clean Power Plan should be unveiled in June 2015.