The Environmental Protection Agency issued the first-ever limits on greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants Tuesday, but stopped short of imposing any restrictions on the nation’s existing coal-fired fleet.
The move sparked protests from Republicans and coal industry officials, but administration officials and most energy analysts said it would have only a modest impact because low natural gas prices are already prompting utilities to build natural gas plants instead.
The rule, which is now open for public comment for 60 days, will require any new power plant to emit no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour of electricity produced. The average U.S. natural gas plant, which emits 800 to 850 pounds of CO2 per megawatt, meets that standard; coal plants emit an average of 1,768 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt.
“Today we’re taking a common-sense step to reduce pollution in our air, protect the planet for our children, and move us into a new era of American energy,” EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said in a statement. She told reporters in a conference call Tuesday afternoon that the proposal “is in line with investments already being made throughout the utility industry.”
The rule, which comes on the heels of tough new requirements that the Obama administration imposed on mercury emissions and cross-state pollution from utilities within the past year, dooms any proposal to build a coal-fired plant that does not have costly carbon controls. The Washington Post first reported details of the proposal Monday.
“The rule would effectively ban the future of almost half of our current electric portfolio,” said Scott Segal, a lobbyist for coal-fired utilities who serves as executive director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council.
Jackson said the proposal “may” affect 15 power plants now in the permitting pipeline, but even that estimate may be high: The Energy Information Administration estimates only one 900-megawatt coal-fired power plant is likely to be built between now and 2030.