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Addressing Climate Change: Power Producers Balk at Carbon Dioxide Limits

Power Production Accounts for One-Third of Carbon Dioxide Emissions in the US
Power Production Accounts for One-Third of Carbon Dioxide Emissions in the US

In the United States, power production, generates fully 33% of the carbon dioxide emissions of all sectors. In an effort to address climate change, a new Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] proposal could cut that number in half.

Since United States President Barack Obama took office for his second term, it has been encouraging to see a somewhat-harder hand pushing for climate change reforms. We often talk about carbon dioxide emissions with regards to the transportation sector here in the US, since trucks, trains, planes, and automobiles generate about 28% of them, and recent regulations requiring the light vehicle fleet to improve its fuel economy has been a big step forward in achieving the goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

According to EPA calculations, power plants generate 33% of US carbon dioxide emissions [other calculations rank power production as high as 41%], which makes them the Obama Administration’s next target. Gina McCarthy, EPA Administrator, said “Climate change is one of the most significant public health challenges of our time. By taking commonsense action to limit carbon pollution from new power plants, we can slow the effects of climate change and fulfill our obligation to ensure a safe and healthy environment for our children. These standards will also spark the innovation we need to build the next generation of power plants, helping grow a more sustainable clean energy economy.”

Thanks to subsidies under Obama’s climate change initiatives, renewable energy production in the US has been increasing, but hasn’t been taking over for older, dirtier, forms of power production, such as coal and natural gas. Thanks to dropping natural gas prices, natural gas power plants have seen a surge in number and capacity. Coal, while reliable, is also the dirtiest, and the loudest when it comes to balking at the latest EPA proposals to cut carbon dioxide emissions.

Under the EPA’s latest proposal, any new coal power plants [existing power plants will be addressed in 2014] would be limited to 1,100lb CO2/MWh [1,100 pounds carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour] generated, which is less than half of current emissions rates. [New larger natural gas power plants would be limited to 1,000lb CO2/MWh, and smaller ones to 1,100lb CO2/MWh.] This effectively shuts the door on any new coal power plant construction, because the technology to reduce carbon dioxide emissions on coal plants is prohibitively expensive. “Our customers have to agree to foot that bill,” says Nick Akins, president and CEO of American Electric Power, one of the country’s largest utilities, “Our customers won’t go for it.”

That’s a good thing, because renewable power production [read: zero carbon dioxide emissions] is cheaper than conventional power production, anyways.

Image © EPA

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