* Carbon rules only apply to new plants
* Rules opposed by Republicans, some in industry
* Could halt building of coal plants that don't bury CO2
By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON, March 27 The Obama administration
proposed o n T uesday the first rules to cut carbon dioxide
emissions from new U.S. power plants, a move hotly contested by
Republicans and industry in an election year.
The Environmental Protection Agency's proposal would
effectively stop the building of most new coal-fired plants in
an industry that is moving rapidly to more natural gas. But the
rules will not regulate existing power plants, the source of one
third of U.S. emissions, and will not apply to any plants that
start construction over the next 12 months.
The watering down of the proposal led some ardent
environmentalists to criticize its loopholes, but a power
company that has taken steps to cut emissions praised the rules.
While the proposal does not dictate which fuels a plant can
burn, it requires any new coal plants to use costly technology
to capture and store the emissions underground. Any new
coal-fired plants would have to halve carbon dioxide emissions
to match those of gas plants.
"We're putting in place a standard that relies on the use of
clean, American made technology to tackle a challenge that we
can't leave to our kids and grandkids," EPA Administrator Lisa
Jackson told reporters in a teleconference.
Jackson could not say whether the standards, which will go
through a public comment period, would be finalized before the
Nov. 6 election. If they are not, they could be more easily
overturned if Obama lost.
Republicans say a slew of EPA clean air measures will drive
up power costs but have had little success in trying to stop
them in Congress. Industries have turned to the courts to slow
down the EPA's program.
Some Democrats from energy-intensive states also complained.
"The overreaching that EPA continues to do is going to create a
tremendous burden and hardship on the families and people of
America," said Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West
The EPA's overall clean-air efforts have divided the power
industry between companies that have moved toward cleaner
energy, such as Exelon and NextEra, and those
that generate most of their power from coal, such as Southern Co
and American Electric Power.
Ralph Izzo, the chairman and CEO of PSEG, a utility
that has invested in cleaner burning energy, said the rules
provide a logical framework to confront the emissions. The rules
provide the industry with "much needed regulatory certainty,"
that is needed to help guide future multi-billion dollar
investments in the U.S. power grid, he added.
Under the new standards, coal plants could add equipment to
capture and bury underground for permanent storage their carbon
emissions. The rules give utilities time to get those systems
running, by requiring they average the emissions cuts over 30
years. Still, the coal-burning industry says that carbon capture
and storage, known as CCS, is not yet commercially available.
Jackson said the EPA believes the technology will be ready
soon. "Every model that we've seen shows that technology as it
develops will become commercially available certainly within the
next 10 years".
The National Mining Association said the rules can only hurt
industry. "This proposal is the latest convoy in EPA's
regulatory train wreck that is rolling across America, crushing
jobs and arresting our economic recovery at every stop
The portion of U.S. electricity fired by coal has slipped
from about 50 percent to 45 percent in the last few years as
hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and other drilling techniques
have allowed access to vast new U.S. natural gas supplies.
NO PLAN FOR EXISTING PLANTS
The EPA is the main tool President Barack Obama has left to
reduce greenhouse gas emissions which he pledged at an
international climate meeting to cut by about 17 percent by 2020
from 2005 levels.
But the agency's moves are also met by challenges by
industry in the courts and have been under withering criticism
from Republicans, who have made environmental regulations a big
campaign theme ahead of the Nov. 6 elections.
Environmentalists are part of Obama's base and the
administration has tried to walk a tightrope with its "all of
the above" energy strategy that includes tougher energy
regulations and support for renewable energy, while also
supporting drilling for oil and gas.
Greens who were stung by Obama's decision last September to
delay a major smog rule, mostly cheered the EPA on Tuesday.
"The bottom line for our country is that cleaner power will
cut harmful carbon dioxide pollution, protect our children and
help secure a safe prosperous future," said Vickie Patton, the
general counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund.
But others bemoaned a concession to industry that left
existing plants without limits. The EPA's Jackson said the
agency has no current plans to issue rules on those plants,
which backers of climate action say are essential to tackle
Obama "should stand by EPA Administrator Jackson and her
team as they push corporate polluters to reduce the CO2 spewing
from smokestacks today," said Kyle Ash of Greenpeace.
An industry analyst said the proposal gives power companies
a break as the rules would not regulate the existing plants
subject to other EPA rules on mercury and other emissions. "We
think this is very reassuring news to an industry on the cusp of
investing billions to meet," those other limits, said Christine
Tezak, an energy policy analyst at R.W. Baird & Co.
"Moving forward, it will be important for EPA to address
carbon emissions for existing power plants as well," said Kevin
Kennedy, the U.S. climate director at the research group World
Resources Institute. "Existing plants represent a significant
opportunity to improve efficiency and reduce U.S. greenhouse gas