In one of the most significant reversals of Bush-era policy, the Obama administration plans tomorrow to issue greenhouse pollution limits for new power plants, a major step in the fight against global warming. The new rule — which will go into effect in 2013 — confirms the end of the era of dirty coal-fired power plants:
The proposed rule — years in the making and approved by the White House after months of review — will require any new power plant to emit no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt of electricity produced. The average U.S. natural gas plant, which emits between 800 and 850 pounds of CO2 per megawatt, meets that standard; coal plants emit an average of 1,768 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt.
Since the late 1990s, “natural gas has been the fuel of choice for the majority of new generating units,” and in the 2000s, wind power generation also grew significantly. With the high cost of its toxic pollution from mine to plant, coal has been losing out to cleaner sources of fuel in the electric utility sector. Although few new coal plants have been built in the last twenty years, aging plants — some built in the 1930s — still produce about 40 percent of U.S. electricity, and about 80 percent of carbon pollution from the power sector.
In March 2001, newly elected President George W. Bush reversed a campaign pledge to limit greenhouse pollution from power plants, the source of 40 percent of United States global warming pollution. In 2008, Bush White House officials refused to open an email sent by its own Environmental Protection Agency which called for action against man-made climate change.
“This is the third major executive action launched by the Obama administration to reduce carbon pollution,” writes Center for American Progress senior fellow Daniel Weiss. “With growing evidence that the serious impacts of climate change are already here, President Obama deserves credit for this new standard. We must urgently adopt and implement these new pollution reduction standards for power plants.”