National Press Club

EPA administrator unveils power plant emission curbs at National Press Club breakfast

September 20, 2013 | By Bill Miller | williammiller512@aol.com

Gina McCarthy, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, describes the Obama administration’s latest policy proposals on combating climate change at a National Press Club breakfast, Sept. 20, 2013

Gina McCarthy, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, describes the Obama administration’s latest policy proposals on combating climate change at a National Press Club breakfast, Sept. 20, 2013

Photo/Image: Al Teich

Gina McCarthy, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, in a breakfast speech at the National Press Club Sept. 20, released the agency’s much-anticipated proposed standards for limiting emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) in new power plants.

A key step in President Barack Obama’s climate-action policy announced in June, the proposed standards will affect only power plants yet to be built, stressed McCarthy. But they are a prelude, she said, to regulations governing existing power plants that will be proposed in June of 2014.

Existing facilities account for 40 percent of the United States’ CO2 emissions and one-third of overall domestic greenhouse gas emissions, a major contributor to global warming.

By issuing the standards, which are authorized by the Clean Air Act, EPA is fulfilling a “moral obligation to the next generation” to address climate change, McCarthy said.

“The overwhelming judgment of science tells us that climate change is real, human activities are fueling that change and we must take action to avoid the most devastating consequences,” she said.

Calling the standards proposed in her speech “both flexible and achievable,” McCarthy said they “pave a path forward for the next generation of power plants.”

The proposal sets separate limits for new power plants fueled by natural gas and those fired by coal. Emissions from new large natural gas plans would be capped at 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour, new small plants at 1,100 pounds. New coal plants would be capped at 1,100 pounds but could choose to average their emissions over seven years.

The standards are updated from a version initially proposed last year but put on hold in the wake of a barrage of criticism from industry. The 2012 proposal called for a tougher, single standard of 1,000 pounds per megawatt-hour for both coal and gas-fired plants.

Pointing out that the agency received more than 2.5 million comments on the earlier proposal, “we did what democracy demands,” McCarthy said. “We read those comments.”

The coal industry and other opponents have complained that EPA’s CO2 standards are a job-killing “war on coal.” Especially controversial is a provision that would require any new coal plant built in the United States to install technology to capture its CO2 emissions, which has yet to be operational on a commercial scale.

Indeed, McCarthy was asked in the first question posed to her in the question and answser session following her speech whether the proposal was a “ban on coal.” Her answer: “Clearly not.”

Rather than killing coal, McCarthy argued, the proposal “sets out a pathway forward for coal to become successful.” She praised the rapid progress being made in carbon-capture technology, on which the Department of Energy has spent billions of dollars since Obama took office.

Moreover, McCarthy said, “setting fair Clean Air Act standards does not cause the sky to fall.” She reminded the audience that auto manufacturers have not, despite their initial criticism, been crippled by EPA’s toughened fuel-economy standards, which have saved consumers an average of $8,000 over the life of a car.

Under the Clean Air Act, EPA has a one-year time frame to finalize the proposal, McCarthy said.