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June 03, 2014
EPA Announces Historic Emissions Limits for Power Plants
    by Robert Kropp

More than 40% of the nation's greenhouse gas emissions come from power plants, and when enacted the new regulations will reduce emissions from existing power plants by 30% nationwide below 2005 levels.

Power plants account for about 40% of the nation's carbon pollution, but until now there have been no limits on how much carbon pollution power plants can emit. Yesterday, the Obama administration took concrete steps toward finally establishing such limits, as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed guidelines that would by 2030 reduce carbon emissions from the power sector by 30% nationwide below 2005 levels.

"Climate change, fueled by carbon pollution, supercharges risks to our health, our economy, and our way of life. EPA is delivering on a vital piece of President Obama's Climate Action Plan by proposing a Clean Power Plan that will cut harmful carbon pollution from our largest source--power plants," said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. "By leveraging cleaner energy sources and cutting energy waste, this plan will clean the air we breathe while helping slow climate change so we can leave a safe and healthy future for our kids. We don't have to choose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment--our action will sharpen America’s competitive edge, spur innovation, and create jobs."

In his weekly address, Obama said, “We don’t have to choose between the health of our economy and the health of our children. The old rules may say we can’t protect our environment and promote economic growth at the same time, but in America, we’ve always used new technology to break the old rules.”

Sustainable investors, who have been engaging with corporations over issues relating to emissions reduction for decades, were quick to applaud the proposed regulations.

Lisa Woll, CEO of US SIF: The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment, said, “The inability of Congress to enact legislation to curb the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions has made it imperative for the EPA to act, as failure by the United States and other major economies to reduce these dangerous pollutants will have catastrophic implications for current and succeeding generations. The EPA’s proposal will help drive innovation, benefit US consumers and bolster international efforts to curb climate change. Sustainable and responsible investors welcome these developments and look forward to working to support the transition to a modern, low carbon economy.”

Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres, which organized a letter of support signed by 49 investors managing $800 billion in assets, said, “This powerful statement of support from more than 170 companies and investors is clear evidence that the EPA rule is both urgently needed and will help, not hinder, the US Economy. Data shows that the electric power industry is already on a path toward a low carbon future, and this standard will accelerate this shift at the pace required by science.”

The data referred to by Lubber, in fact, is one reason why some environmental activists have criticized the proposed regulations as inadequate. Writing in The New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction, observed, “The Obama Administration clearly deserves credit for doing something on climate change, as opposed to the inaction advocated by congressional Republicans. And, since the chances of Congress approving meaningful climate legislation in the foreseeable future are approximately zero, the President also deserves credit for using his executive authority to forge ahead. At the same time, the new rules aren’t really very ambitious.”

“Owing in part to the recession and in part to relatively low natural-gas prices, power-plant emissions have already fallen significantly in recent years,” Kolbert continued. And she quoted Connie Hedegaard, the European Union’s climate-action commissioner, who said of the regulations, “To deliver what is needed to stay below a two-degrees-Celsius increase in global temperature, all countries, including the United States, must do even more than what this reduction trajectory indicates.”

“It is entirely possible for the new regulations to be the best that can reasonably be hoped for from Washington these days and at the same time for them to be woefully inadequate,” Kolbert wrote.


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