John Kemp writes in the Business Spectator:
“As a president, as a father, and as an American, I am here to say we need to act,” Obama said. “I refuse to condemn … future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixing. And that’s why, today, I’m announcing a new national climate change action plan.”
But the president’s announcement was short on new initiatives. Less than a quarter of the speech was spent on specific policies. The president devoted fewer than 300 words in 6,000 (less than 5 per cent) to discussing emissions standards for power plants.
In concrete terms, the speech was accompanied by a “presidential memorandum” to the EPA directing the agency to issue a new version of its proposed regulation for carbon emissions from new power plants by September 20, 2013.
Obama also directed the agency to work on new emission standards for modified, reconstructed and existing power plants, asking for a draft by June 2014, a final rule by June 2015, and implementation by June 2016.
None of this is new. The EPA has been working on emission standards for new power plants under its authority to issue New Source Prevention Standards. It has long been assumed the agency would try to regulate emissions from existing and upgraded power plants under its authority to issues rules covering Prevention of Significant Deterioration…
But the EPA will have to proceed carefully.
Gas and renewables cannot immediately replace all the 1.76 terrawatt-hours of electricity generated from coal last year. It will take decades to put alternatives in place.
Any new emissions standards will have to be crafted to allow many coal-fired plants to continue operating for another decade or more. The new rules will not even begin to take effect until towards the end of the decade.
The main impact of Obama’s regulations will be to foreclose any widespread return to coal if gas prices rise.
Even that is not certain, however. If the gas market does tighten in future, threatening to make electricity much more expensive, a future president will have plenty of time to ease the rules again to allow new coal plants to be built.