New EPA Carbon Rules Can Be Backstop Against Future Emissions

Statement by Rachel Cleetus, climate economist in the Climate and Energy Program

Published Sep 20, 2013

WASHINGTON (September 20, 2013) – Carbon standards for new power plants released today from the Environmental Protection Agency can act as a backstop against growing emissions, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

Below is a statement by Rachel Cleetus, an economist in UCS’s Climate and Energy Program:

“The EPA means business when it comes to reducing emissions from new power plants.

“The U.S. power sector is already retiring existing coal plants and moving toward cleaner energy sources. When it comes to new plants, federal estimates tell us that even without these new rules, we can expect just 9 gigawatts of new coal power -- about 15 average-sized plants -- to come online between now and 2040. The electricity industry should be looking even more favorably at renewables and efficiency, especially since draft standards for existing power plants are due in June 2014.

“Coal’s future will need to involve carbon capture and storage. The industry has innovated before in response to new rules and they’ll need to do so again. The federal government and the power industry are already putting the technology to work. For utilities, the key question will be whether or not they want to deploy carbon capture widely or invest more heavily in renewables, efficiency and gas.

“The EPA should seriously consider a stronger standard for new large natural gas plants. New combined cycle natural gas plants emit an average of 800 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour, which is well below the proposed standard.

“Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of carbon emissions in the United States. These rules pave the way for the EPA to achieve truly significant emissions reductions from existing plants. The agency needs to keep pushing forward on those rules to meet the president’s timeline. Ultimately, we also need to do more to cut emissions, including putting a price on carbon.”

Earlier this week, Cleetus wrote a blog post laying out important considerations related to the new rules, including a graph that shows the increasing amounts of carbon capture needed to meet different emissions standards.