EPA Moves to Curb Emissions from Existing Power Plants

New Data Shows Renewables, Energy Efficiency Could Dramatically Lower Emissions

Published Jun 2, 2014

WASHINGTON (June 2, 2014) – In a historic step, the Environmental Protection Agency today proposed the first-ever limits on carbon emissions from existing power plants fueled by coal and natural gas, with new analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) finding that there are opportunities for the standard to achieve even deeper and cost-effective emissions reductions from the power sector. The proposed standards, a centerpiece of President Obama’s climate action plan, would cut emissions 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

“The standard EPA announced today signals to the world that the United States is serious about cutting dangerous heat trapping carbon dioxide from its power plants,” said UCS President Ken Kimmell, former commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and former Board Chair of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). “With the flexibility to include renewable energy and energy efficiency in state plans to meet these new standards, the proposal presents a significant opportunity for states to make meaningful reductions in their emissions.”

He noted that a similar approach of limits on carbon emissions and expansion of renewable energy and energy efficiency has worked well in nine Northeast states and California. Massachusetts and other Northeast states participating in RGGI cut carbon emissions from their power plants by about 40 percent since 2005, and are projected to reach approximately a 50 percent cut by 2020 while benefiting from the investment of millions of dollars in carbon revenues. In Massachusetts alone, the state has created over 80,000 new jobs in clean energy in part because of its investments in energy efficiency and renewables.

“The experience with RGGI shows that states can cut carbon far more cost-effectively if they work together, rather than going it alone,” said Kimmell. “Under the proposed new rule, states can pool their resources to take advantage of the falling cost and wide availability of renewable energy resources and energy efficiency to meet the carbon standard affordably and reliably.” 

Rachel Cleetus, senior climate economist in the UCS Climate and Energy Program and a co-author of the new UCS analysis, said that the new standard has the potential to be a climate game-changer. “We look forward to submitting additional information that demonstrates how we can do even more,” she said.

The new UCS analysis found that an ambitious power plant standard, accompanied by strong renewable and efficiency policies, could cut power sector carbon emissions by 40 percent below current (2013) levels by 2020 and by more than 50 percent by 2030. Renewable energy and energy efficiency would play a significant role in delivering these reductions while continuing to provide cost-effective and reliable power to consumers.

She also noted that additional policies that drive renewable energy deployment and energy are critical over the next 10 to 15 years to help deliver deep reductions cost-effectively and avoid an over-reliance on natural gas, which comes with serious climate, health, consumer, and environmental risks. 
“While the power plant carbon standard is a tremendous step forward, ultimately we will need to make much deeper cuts in emissions to help limit worsening climate impacts, something the administration cannot do alone,” said Cleetus. “Congress must step up and enact legislation that will lead to deep cuts in emissions throughout the economy.”

To learn more about the new UCS analysis of power sector emissions reductions from a carbon standard, see Cleetus’s blog post here. An infographic on the UCS analysis can be found here.