Quantcast
Climate

Answering 3 Questions About Obama's Upcoming Carbon Emissions Rules

When President Barack Obama speaks Monday, he is expected to present a set of standards that will have a lasting impact on the environment, our health and the bottom lines of power plant operators.

Together, the rules will form a new regulation on existing coal-fired power plants and how much carbon they are permitted to emit. Many expect the rules to create a program allowing states to tax the biggest offenders.

With the help of experts from the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Natural Resources Defense Council, as well as environmental reporters from the Associated Press and New York Times, here are some answers to key points about the to-be-unveiled rules.

Obama's carbon emissions rules will have a lasting impact on the environment, our health and the bottom lines of power plant operators.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Why are they important?

Fossil fuel-fired power plants emit 40 percent of the nation’s carbon pollution, as well as significant amounts of mercury, acid gases, and pollutants that contribute to smog and particulates. Coal is the biggest source of greenhouse gases and a direct cause of climate change and the warming of the planet.

The new rules, crafted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, will mark the first limits on carbon emissions from the energy sector.

"The standards can build on the ongoing transition away from coal-fired power to cleaner, increasingly cost-competitive generation sources like natural gas, wind and solar energy, and energy efficiency. In 2012, this shift helped lower energy-related emissions to their lowest level since 1994, and we now have the opportunity to go further," Rachel Cleetus, senior climate economist of the UCS, writes.

Additionally, a report from the Harvard School of Public Health and Syracuse University states that stronger standards mean "greater and more widespread the benefits will be for people and for the environment.”

How will the rules affect the energy sector and its customers?

There is no way to know until Obama approaches the podium. As Lederman points out, the Administration has yet to say whether one national rule will be established or if states will be subject to unique standards.

However, the New York Times reported this week that "people familiar with the rule" said a national limit on carbon pollution will be set while also allowing states to develop emissions-reduction plans that could include the addition of wind and solar power, energy-efficiency technology and cap-and-trade programs.

Either way, for the residents of coal-heavy states like Ohio, Utah and Arizona, new rules will "literally mean a breath of fresh air," said David Doniger of the NRDC. If plants are limited on the amount of pollution they can emit, the risks of heart and asthma attacks will go down, as will emphysema and other respiratory illnesses.

Opponents like the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity have warned that new standards will ultimately drive up prices for the consumer. In March, that group estimated that retail electricity prices would rise in 29 states, eliminating nearly 3 million jobs. Environmentalists hope that the rules mandate efficiency and cleaner energy, to bring down costs over time. A price bump could be offset by decreased health care costs, particularly for those who live near coal-fired power plants.

What do new carbon rules mean for Obama's environmental legacy?

Far more than his decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, unnamed Administration officials told the New York Times. A strong set of standards would easily constitute Obama's strongest stance against climate change, something international groups, scientists and the military agree we need to be fighting. They will prove that the president is unafraid to use executive authority to aid in that fight.

If Obama did nothing, there's absolutely no way climate legislation would get approved in Congress—not with legislators like Marco Rubio, R-FL, stating that humans have nothing to do with climate change and John Boehner, R-OH, saying that climate legislation would hurt the economy.

Be warned—the rules will be open for revisions and public comment for a full year, according to the AP. Under the state scenario, states would have yet another year to submit their implementation plans.

Still, new rules could go a long way toward Obama's six-year-old goal of reducing carbon emissions by 17 percent by 2020.

"What’s clear is that this is a significant opportunity—perhaps the most significant we’ve ever had—to make deep cuts in U.S. heat-trapping emissions," Cleetus writes. "The power plant carbon standards could be a climate game changer!"

——–

YOU ALSO MIGHT LIKE

Why Energy Efficiency Deserves a Key Role in EPA Carbon Limits

White House’s Alarming Climate Change Study Calls For ‘Urgent Action’

NASA: Earth Could Warm 20 Percent More Than Earlier Estimates

——–

Show Comments ()
Sponsored

Honeybees Are Struggling to Get Enough Good Bacteria

A study published in Ecology and Evolution Monday shows that the big changes humans make to the land can have important consequences for some tiny microorganisms honeybees rely on to stay healthy.

Keep reading... Show less
Palace of Westminster. Alan Wong / Flickr

UK to Review Climate Goals, Explore 'Net-Zero' Emissions Strategy

The UK will review its long-term climate target and explore how to reach "net-zero" emissions by 2050, Environment Minister Claire Perry announced Tuesday.

The UK is the first G7 country to commit to such an analysis, which would seek to align the country's emissions trajectory to the Paris agreement's more ambitious goal of limiting warming to 1.5°C.

Keep reading... Show less
Lesser is greater. The lesser long-nosed bat pollinates agave flowers. Larry Petterborg / Flickr

First Bat Removed From U.S. Endangered Species List Helps Produce Tequila

The lesser long-nosed bat made bat history Tuesday when it became the first U.S. bat species to be removed from the endangered species list because of recovery, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced.

Keep reading... Show less
Toxic fluorinated chemicals in tap water and at industrial or military sites. Environmental Working Group

Fluorinated Chemical Pollution Crisis Spreads

Two decades after pollution from highly toxic fluorinated chemicals was first reported in American communities and drinking water, the number of known contamination sites is growing rapidly, with no end in sight.

The latest update of an interactive map by Environmental Working Group (EWG) and the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute at Northeastern University documents publicly known pollution from so-called PFAS chemicals at 94 industrial or military sites in 22 states. When the map was first published 10 months ago, there were 52 known contamination sites in 19 states. The map and accompanying report are the most comprehensive resources tracking PFAS pollution in the U.S.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular

Plastics: The History of an Ecological Crisis

The Earth Day Network has announced that this year's Earth Day, on Sunday, April 22, will focus on ending plastic pollution by Earth Day 2020, the 50th anniversary of the world's first Earth Day in 1970, which led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the passage of the Clean Water, Clean Air and Endangered Species Acts.

Keep reading... Show less
GMO
Mike Mozart / Flickr

Germany to Put 'Massive Restrictions' on Monsanto Weedkiller

German Agriculture Minister Julia Kloeckner announced Tuesday she is drafting regulation to stop use of glyphosate in the country's home gardens, parks and sports facilities, Reuters reported.

The minister also plans to set "massive restrictions" for its use in agriculture, with exemptions for areas that are prone to erosion and cannot be worked with heavy machinery.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

Species Threatened as Climate Crisis Pushes Mother Nature 'Out of Synch'

By Julia Conley

The warming of the Earth over the past several decades is throwing Mother Nature's food chain out of whack and leaving many species struggling to survive, according to new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study offers the latest evidence that the climate crisis that human activity has contributed to has had far-reaching effects throughout the planet.

Keep reading... Show less
EPA memos passed since December weaken air quality controls for the sake of industry. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

EPA Memos Show Sneak Attack on Air Quality

Behind all the media attention focused on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt's many scandals, the agency has quietly passed a series of four memos since December that have a net impact of reducing air pollution controls to benefit industry, The Hill reported Wednesday.

The Hill's report comes just days before the world celebration of Earth Day on Sunday, April 22. The first Earth Day, in 1970, is often credited with leading to the passage of the Clean Air Act that same year, but now the Trump administration seems intent on rolling back that legacy.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!