EPA To Propose Rules To Deeply Cut Power Plant Emissions

On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency will propose rules to regulate the amount of carbon pollution existing facilities can release. The EPA reportedly is seeking a 30 percent cut.

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

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And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. Let's look more closely now at the Obama administration's latest step toward fighting climate change with regulations against greenhouse gases. The nation's coal industry may feel the biggest impact here. Critics of the president's moves say we could feel the impact as well if we see utility bills go up. Let's talk this through now with NPR's Jeff Brady who's been covering the story. Jeff, good morning.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: OK, so the Environmental Protection Agency is announcing new pollution standards this morning. What do those regulations do?

BRADY: Well, they set a national standard for reducing greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, from existing power plants. And that national target will be 30 percent. Now, that's not 30 percent from right now, though. The agency is starting the clock back in 2005. And over the last few years the country, already, has seen a reduction in carbon pollution from power plants. So these rules will build on that.

And then each state will have its own target. It could be more or less than that 30 percent. And we still have some more to learn about how those state-specific targets are going to be set. But those states will have some flexibility in meeting their targets. They can choose things like more renewable energy or energy efficiency. And certainly, coal plants are going to be a big focus in this process because coal-fired generators are responsible for much of that carbon pollution that scientists say is contributing to climate change.

INSKEEP: OK, big focus in this process. Does that mean that coal-fired power plants would close?

BRADY: That's certainly a possibility. And the industry is not happy about that. It's already under pressure from natural gas, which of course burns cleaner, and it's a lot cheaper these days. Or it's cheaper - not a lot cheaper, but it is cheaper. The National Mining Association, which represents coal companies that have been out there airing radio ads talking about how the rules will increase utility bills, trying to get more consumers on their side. But they have folks on the other sides - the environmentalists putting out their own studies. National Resources Defense Counsel says that this rule will save the country billions of dollars in part because of energy efficiency. But we'll figure that out as we kind of - these rules start to gel a little bit more and we learn exactly how they're going to be implemented.

INSKEEP: I want to make sure that I understand who's got authority to do what here. The administration is doing this without Congress - right? - because the EPA can regulate pollution. But is there a possibility of a court challenge over these regulations?

BRADY: I think that's almost certain. Republican members of Congress - my email inbox is full already this morning from them - and folks are saying there that the Obama administration is overstepping its authority with these rules. The EPA says it's relying on the Clean Air Act for that authority. You know, we've seen this scenario play out over the years, though. The president asks Congress for more authority to regulate pollution, as he did with greenhouse gases. The Congress doesn't act. The administration implements regulations, and then there's a legal challenge. But lately, the EPA has been on a winning streak with these cases. So it'll be interesting to see how a court battle shapes ups over this.

INSKEEP: Suppose the regulations get through the court challenge, suppose they're implemented, suppose that greenhouse gasses from this source are reduced by 30 percent - does that have a big effect on climate change?

BRADY: You know, it makes sense. Scientists say that man-made carbon pollution is contributing to climate change, so if you reduce that, that should reduced the problem of climate change. But these rules only cover the United States, and the United States is the number two polluter. China is number one. And so that's one of the things that opponents of these rules are saying, you know, we could go through all of these costs and it won't even change the problem of climate change. But the president said that the U.S. needs to lead on this issue.

INSKEEP: And does the U.S. have an opportunity, actually, to lead with this - lead by example in some way?

BRADY: Well, certainly. When the president goes to some of these international conferences where they're talking about climate change, a rule like this would give him some credibility to ask other countries to start making their own changes.

INSKEEP: Jeff, thanks for the update.

BRADY: All right, thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Jeff Brady.

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