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The Facts about EPA’s Carbon Pollution Standard for New Power Plants

By Gina McCarthy, Assistant Administrator, Office of Air and Radiation

Last week, EPA proposed a common-sense standard to address carbon pollution from future power plants. It’s disappointing – but not surprising – that the standard was immediately attacked with distortions, half-truths and blatantly inaccurate statements. An editorial in this morning’s Wall Street Journal is just the latest example of this fact-free assault.

Some background: there is currently no uniform national limit on the amount of carbon pollution new power plants can emit, and the standard we proposed last week is common-sense, achievable and in line with the direction the industry has been moving for a decade.

As the Administrator and I said repeatedly when we announced this proposal last week, this standard only applies to new sources – that is, power plants that will be constructed in the future. This standard would never apply to existing power plants. And we have no plans to address existing power plants.

Despite these basic facts, the Wall Street Journal, and others, continue to misrepresent the standard and distort its impact.

For example, this morning’s Wall Street Journal editorial incorrectly states that facilities that are installing pollution controls to reduce emissions of pollutants like mercury, arsenic and acid gases would have to comply with this standard as well. That is flat-out wrong. The proposed rule explicitly does not apply to facilities making such modifications. In fact, EPA did not propose a standard for any modifications.

Because EPA did not propose a standard for modifications, one cannot be finalized. As a result, there is literally no standard proposed in this rule that could ever be applied to any modified sources under any other part of the Clean Air Act.

Second, the standard reflects a trend in the market towards cleaner power generation that has been happening for a decade – not just for the past three years, as the Journal suggests. In fact, in the past decade – primarily driven by conditions in the market – only 7% of the new electric generating capacity in the US has been coal-fired. This is a trend the Journal’s own newsroom has reported on. A September 2010 article for instance, noted that “Power companies are increasingly switching to natural gas to fuel their electricity plants, driven by low prices and forecasts of vast supplies for years to come” and acknowledged that the trend began in the late nineties and had been “accelerating”- a year and a half before EPA even proposed this standard.

That said, we worked hard to ensure that this standard provides a path forward for new coal plants, with the help of technologies that reduce carbon emissions. Carbon capture and sequestration is an emerging technology – one this Administration has invested in – that is currently being permitted and built at facilities. Like most emerging technologies, it is expected that CCS will become more readily available and cost effective as it is refined over time – which is why the Agency built in flexibilities to the standard so that facilities can move forward now with the ability to implement CCS years from now..

Every projection, including those the rule relies on, makes clear that coal will continue to be the largest single source of electricity in the United States. This standard will not change that.

What this standard will do is provide certainty to the industry as they continue building the next generation of cleaner, more efficient power plants – facilities that will continue to burn a range of fuels. The standard has no projected cost to industry precisely because it is in line with investments industry has already made, and continues to make, in response to realities in the marketplace.

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