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EPA Wants To Limit Greenhouse Gases From New Coal Power Plants

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EPA Wants To Limit Greenhouse Gases From New Coal Power Plants


EPA Wants To Limit Greenhouse Gases From New Coal Power Plants

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The Environmental Protection Agency will take another stab today at controlling greenhouse gas emissions from the power plants of the future. The power industry attacked the EPA's first proposal, saying it would make it nearly impossible to build new plants that use coal. But as NPR's Elizabeth Shogren reports, companies don't like this new plan, either.

ELIZABETH SHOGREN, BYLINE: The electricity sector pumps out about 40 percent of the pollution that contributes to climate change - more than any other source. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy says that's got to change and the U.S. is up to the challenge technologically and financially.

GINA MCCARTHY: We believe that the actions you take to address climate change can be real. They're available to us now. And they can actually form the basis for a sound economy while at the same time, we can begin to tackle what is essentially the most significant public health challenge of our time.

SHOGREN: McCarthy says under today's proposal, the greenhouse gas emissions of future coal plants would be limited to about half of what coal plants emit now. McCarthy says this proposal should push companies to adopt cleaner, innovative technologies.

MCCARTHY: You know, climate change doesn't have to make people afraid to take action. It should make people concerned if we're not taking action.

SHOGREN: Industry officials haven't had much time to look at the new plan. But they say it has the same problem as the earlier version. They say the only ways for the industry to make coal plants clean enough for the EPA are far too expensive, and haven't been proven at a commercial scale.

Nick Akins is president and CEO of American Electric Power, one of the country's largest utilities. He says meeting the proposed standard would add hundreds of millions of dollars to the cost of any new coal plant - and that money has to come from somewhere.

NICK ATKINS: Our customers have to agree that they're going to foot that bill.

SHOGREN: A few years ago, his company built a small-scale, temporary project that captured and stored carbon dioxide at a big West Virginia plant. It worked. But when the company asked to build a larger version and pass on the costs, state regulators said no. Akins says companies like his aren't planning to build coal-fired power plants anyway - natural gas and wind are affordable right now. But that could change, and he worries that because of EPA's new proposal, coal would no longer be an option.

ATKINS: To the lay person, it would say that the EPA is trying to stop all coal development.

SHOGREN: Akins' bigger concern is the EPA's next job - promised regulations to limit greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants. Environmentalists are also reacting to today's proposal, which comes 18 months after the original. The EPA says this version will stand up better against anticipated legal attacks. But Vickie Patton, chief lawyer for the Environmental Defense Fund, says the EPA is just losing time.

VICKIE PATTON: The sooner we get these protections in place, the clearer the signal is: New power plants must do their fair share at addressing the heavy burden of carbon pollution on human health and the environment.

SHOGREN: She says like increases in extreme weather events. Patton lives in Boulder, Colo., where torrential rains last week destroyed houses and washed away roads. Seven people died, and 10 more are presumed dead. It's too early to say whether climate change played a role in Colorado's disaster. But Patton says living through it makes her more impatient for the government to step in to reduce greenhouse gases.

PATTON: Seeing close at hand the ravages of extreme weather, it only just underscores the urgency of action.

SHOGREN: A final rule to cut greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants should come out in about a year.

Elizabeth Shogren. NPR News, Washington.

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