Obama unveils ambitious plan to cut emissions from power plants

“The biggest, most important step we have ever taken to combat climate change”. With these words the US President Barack Obama announced its new plan aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector. The plan has been unveiled on Sunday (August 2) by the Obama administration and on Monday further details have been released by the US President and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that will be in charge of implementing it.

The main objective of the “Clean Power Plan” is to reduce carbon pollution from the power sector by 32% below 2005 levels. The plan addresses existing and new fossil fuel-fired power plants and rely on a federal-state partnership to achieve the national objective. Under the new rule, indeed, EPA is establishing interim and final statewide goals. States then will implement measures to ensure that the power plants in their area – either individually, together or in combination with other measures – achieve their final targets by 2030.

Two plan types are available for states to meet their goals:

  • Emission standards plans that include source-specific requirements ensuring all affected power plants within the state meet their required performance standards;
  • State measures plans which include a mix of regulations implemented by the state, such as renewable energy standards and programs to improve residential energy efficiency that are not included as federally enforceable components of the plan.

States will be required to submit a final plan by September 6, 2016 (or 2018 at the latest if an extension is requested).

According to the fact-sheets published on the EPA website, the Clean Power Plan provides States and utilities both ample flexibility and time to achieve the required emission cuts, thus offering the power sector the opportunity to optimize pollution reductions while maintaining a reliable and affordable supply of electricity for ratepayers and businesses. Moreover, the transition to cleaner sources of energy will reduce emissions also from other harmful air pollution: in 2030 sulfur dioxide’s emissions from power plants will be 90% lower compared to 2005 levels while emissions of nitrogen oxides will be reduced by 72% leading benefits in terms of thousands of premature deaths avoided and thousands fewer asthma attacks and hospitalizations in 2030 and every year beyond. Addressing the media, the EPA administrator, Gina McCarthy, said the plan would cost about $8.4 billion with total benefits estimated between $34 to $54 billion.

Following up the announcement, coal-producing states vowed full-scale resistance, including outright defiance, Bloomberg reported, and some of them are ready to ask a federal court to stop the new plan. In a letter sent to all 50 governors, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell supported them, urging not to comply with the plan.

The new regulation is likely also to enter the 2016 US presidential elections debate. If from one side the presumptive Democratic front-runner, Hillary Rodham Clinton, commented that the “Clean Power Plan is a significant step forward in meeting the urgent threat of climate change”, on the other side the Republican candidates attacked the new regulations, accusing Obama of conducting a “war on coal” with Jeb Bush calling the new plan “irresponsible and overreaching”.

The Clean Power Plan is one the main pillars of the President Obama’s climate action undertaken ahead of the UN Climate conference, to be held at the end of the year in Paris, and that already saw the United States promising a nation-wide emissions reduction target of 26-28% by 2025.

(Image: President Barack Obama in the Oval Office, Jan. 5, 2015. Photo credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza/Flickr)