Obama Likely To Push Curbs On Carbon Pollution From Existing Power Plants In State Of The Union

The Wall Street Journal reports the President will continue his push on climate action in his State Of The Union address next week.

The GOP-dominated House in particular is against passing any policies to curb greenhouse gas emissions. But even without Congress’s cooperation, the Executive Branch has a wide array of regulatory tools at its disposal to tackle the problem, particularly the Clean Air Act.

The President surprised almost everyone by devoting so much of his second inaugural address to climate, framing the issue in moral terms, “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.” This raised expectations for the SOTU address.

Now the Wall Street Journal reports:

President Barack Obama in next week’s State of the Union speech will lay out a renewed effort to combat climate change that is expected to include using his authority to curb emissions from existing power plants, people who have talked to the administration about its plans said.

The Environmental Protection Agency has already proposed rules, set to be finalized this spring, to limit carbon pollution emitted from new power plants to 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour of electricity. This would make the construction of new coal-fired power plants effectively impossible.

Mr. Obama is likely to signal he wants to move beyond proposed Environmental Protection Agency rules on emissions from new power plants and tackle existing coal-fired plants, people familiar with the administration’s plans said….

“You will ultimately see a proposal from EPA to regulate existing power plants,” one person familiar with the matter said. “How he talks about it in the State of the Union could be anything from, ‘We’ve taken important steps and we need to take more,’ to ‘We need to make more [progress] and the next one on the chopping block is existing sources'” of carbon emissions.

No final decisions about what the president will propose next Tuesday appear to have been made.

President Obama has already committed to reducing carbon emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and the Energy Information Administration recently concluded we’re already at 9 percent below today. But further aggressive steps will be needed to prevent losing those gains and to close the rest of the gap.

In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled the EPA would be required to regulate carbon dioxide emissions under the Clean Air Act if it found that those emissions endangered public health and the environment. The agency came to that exact conclusion in 2009 — indeed, they did so in 2008 under President Bush, but he blocked making the endangerment finding.

EPA scientists noted that the climate change associated with carbon emissions will, for instance, increase the dangers posed by extreme weather, such as drought and floods, will worsen air pollution, and will boost the frequency, intensity, and duration of heat waves, with all the attendant threats to the health and welfare of Americans.

That in turn led to the EPA’s proposal to regulate carbon pollution from new power plants, and during the comment period for the proposal the agency received more than 3 million comments in favor of reducing carbon pollution from both new and existing power plants — a record for an EPA rule proposal. But up until now, the EPA hasn’t moved to reduce emissions from power plants already in operation.

Other steps the Executive Branch could take unilaterally to protect the environment and public health include adopting the “Tier 3” standard the EPA is working on to further reduce smog, using public lands and waters to promote clean energy projects, establishing more stringent renewable energy standards for utilities, and nixing the Keystone XL pipeline.

According to a former administration official who spoke with the Wall Street Journal, the President has been “pushing the team to get very specific about how to achieve the goals he set on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.” Obama will deliver the State of the Union speech next Tuesday, February 12.

29 Responses to Obama Likely To Push Curbs On Carbon Pollution From Existing Power Plants In State Of The Union

  1. Connie Nelson says:

    Stop the XL Pipeline and Stop Fracking

  2. Mike Roddy says:

    Not sure what the Obama team has in mind here. There is no point in requiring existing coal plants to substantially reduce carbon emissions unless you expect them to close as a result. CCS costs too much, and retrofitting to stop CO2 emissions through pollution control technology won’t work.

    What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. The 1000 lbs CO2 per mgw standard (or something a little higher for existing plants) would have to be applied to natural gas plants, too. Fugitive methane emissions would have to be included per the latest confirmed averages, either as GHG’s or future status as CO2 molecules. Expect a bloodbath between the gas and coal people over that one.

    I look forward to clarification here from Jeff or Joe when the Administration releases the details along with the SOU speech.

    The simpler solution would be a rapidly escalating carbon tax. Then the coal and gas plants would have to close for economic reasons.

  3. Solar Jim says:

    It is interesting that combined cycle hydraulic-fractured-derived fossil methane can meet this incremental standard (1000 pounds/ mWh) – as long as inevitable fugitive NG emissions can not be directly measured. Furthermore, since fracking seems to be indemnified from national clean air and clean water laws, cost seems manipulated downward for the coming years of fossil methane infrastructure buildout, even though “conventional” gas extraction peaked in the US around 1973.

    Science says the “standard” for new infrastructure should be zero pounds per kilowatt-hour. Unless, that is, we wish to “crash and burn” the nation and biosphere.

  4. Paul Magnus says:

    all we need is an agressive and firm indications of how its going to be. Then the money will flow….

  5. CW says:

    The Center for American Progress got a letter from the co-chairmen of the Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change (Senators Waxman and Whitehouse) asking for climate fighting ideas. What are you guys gonna say? Are you going to canvass CP readers for some ideas?

  6. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Carbon Tax,

    Tax deductions for efficiency measures,

    Start serious planning for the changes that are now inevitable,

    Taxation deductions for resiliance measures.

  7. Sasparilla says:

    Those are great ideas. I think the first one actually has a chance of happening based on the talk of the administration…the second one though, I don’t think so.

  8. Sasparilla says:

    Bring it on President Obama, it’ll be interesting to hear what he actually decides on. Not that Rupert Murdoch’s WSJ has any interest in inciting panic among the GOP faithful and fossil fuel/coal lobby.

    It seems, so far, the President is only talking about 17% below 2005 levels CO2 emissions levels and already about half way there (I doubt that includes the flaring from the vast number of oil shale fields built out over the last couple of years), so I doubt he’ll actually go after many existing coal plants that weren’t already on the chopping block anyways.

    I’d love for the President to really take a swipe at closing out a bunch of coal power plants that weren’t already going to close (like say 50% in the next 10 years), but looking at his past actions, I can’t see him really going after old King Coal’s jugular here (he should, but I can’t see him doing it) – I could see him calling for tighter emissions rules (closing a few more coal power plants in the U.S.) and also Federal Support for massive coal export terminals to send coal to China and keep the jobs – could totally see that.

  9. Sasparilla says:

    Waxman and Whitehouse are awesome, nice to see someone making some noise for a change – even if it can’t go anywhere with the GOP.

  10. Ozonator says:

    And da WashTimes will game google by saying President Obama will ban guns and sashimi/sushi …

    First the University of East Anglia and now Mother Nature tries to steal even the free lunches from EssoKochs’ deniers. “Sea urchin nickel ‘trick’ could be key to capturing carbon” (By Matt McGrath, Environment correspondent, BBC News;, 2/4/13). Remember, the Denier rodentia are superior in every way with genetically peerless science contrary to rumors of oxycontin or “alcohol in blood surrogate” (Brave New World by Aldous Huxley : chapter six;

  11. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Any inside info about changes to the USA’s stance at the international negotiating table in the SOU? ME

  12. fj says:

    In New York City, this continues to seem like a good start starting with resilience enhancement


  13. BillD says:

    Good new! I have already been warning state legislators and utilities in my state of Indiana that getting so much of our electricity from coal has serious environmental impact and big economic risk. It would be great if the President would demonstrate that the economic risk is bigger and sooner than just about anyone expected.

  14. In addition to short and near-term actions, urgent as discussed, I’d like to see a process to create a national climate plan – a yardstick, quantified to the absolute carbon budget and going out to 90% reductions in 2050, that will help distinguish whether things like 1000 lb CO2e/MWh or zero will get the job done.

  15. We will stop fracking, I think… But will we stop it in time?

  16. With Rubio named to give the answer to Obama’s SOTU speech, it would seem that any emphasis on climate change by Obama should make the differences clear.

  17. fj says:

    unfortunately, it will be a slow rampup dealing with the environmental crisis until things start getting scary likely soon.

  18. Dennis Tomlinson says:

    I’ve been thinking about the measures of improvement once we get ourselves onto such a “national climate plan”. The yardstick for scientists and engineers is one thing, but it seems unlikely to be an effective tool for informing the public. With all the built-in lags and inertia, there will not be measurable improvement in the climate for perhaps decades to come. This might well play into the plans and schemes of the deniers and the dis-informers who would use lack of noticeable improvement to appeal to the natural cynicism of the lesser informed. The earliest measure of improvement would be a slowing in the rate of change of climate’s rate of change. How in Hades would we convey the meaning of the second derivative to the general public? I don’t know the answer. I only experiences with friends and relatives – one of whom recently told me we need to get rid of these “stupid windmills”. She watched the movie, “Windfall” and had bought the message hook, line, and sinker.
    E. O. Wilson has said this period is “the bottleneck. David Orr calls it “the long emergency”. David Archer is quoted as saying that, “The climatic impacts of releasing fossil fuel CO2 to the atmosphere will last longer than Stonehenge.” How will we keep everyone pulling on their oar?
    Sorry, just an engineer looking forward to possible pitfalls…

  19. Brian R Smith says:

    Kevin, by national climate plan I assume you mean a science-based federal strategy and comprehensive plan of actions. Wherever it comes from, we know will it be draconian and hard to sell politically and culturally if we are actually going to reach mitigation goals & transition to a low carbon economy.

    The Administration is setting the stage now, rhetorically, for approaching climate but is miles from putting together a comprehensive plan. When it does come it will likely be more the deformed bastard of political compromise than the rightful heir of evidence based necessity.

    Assuming you mean instead a process within the non-gov. climate community to put a consensus uber-plan forward, I’m with you and think there should be more attention on the importance of doing it and what process could get underway now. New & stronger coalitions are being forged all the time and calls for action are ramping up in every sector, inspired by policy positions from all the major progressive sources we could name, e.g. CAP, – and inspired by direct action, e.g. @350. It’s all in the right direction but not directed. If it’s a good idea for climate progressives to lead the national discussion and hopefully influence Administration policy with a succession of kindred but separate initiatives (as we have now), isn’t it also important to now gather the clans tightly around the goal of creating next-level consensus as fast as possible? If that’s the goal, there is a LOT to talk about and a lot that can be done.

    This needs to get unpacked and taken seriously but it will only happen if it’s a deliberate collaboration and campaign by major groups. Bit players in small towns like me can squawk all we want about what elites should to little effect, but we (some millions) are going to be much more effective in our communities and nationally when/if the credentialed progressive voices become a chorus we can join. Option or obligation?

    It’s the a-Grand Alliance-is-essential argument. We’ve all heard it before and it never gets much applause. This is surprising in light of its potential -and the notion that we don’t want to be looking back in 5 or 10 years with deep regret at what we could have done, might have done to turn all this energy into a focused political strategy with everyone possible on board.

  20. A.J. says:

    I think O deals more in political likelihoods. Taking out some coal is a start, but of course that’s only in North America. What we really need is an international carbon tax or cap & trade with abuse protections. Then maybe a fund can be set up to help lower income people absorb the extra costs and transition to newer technologies. But we’re not going to go any faster than it would take for a massive build-out of efficiency programs and alternative energy. That could take awhile, so it’s probably either have some natural gas or have rolling blackouts.

  21. Liz Calkins says:

    Now we need a national campaign of getting energy-efficient appliances into the homes of especially poor people who’d otherwise struggle to upgrade, and advancing a national program of energy efficiency in general.

    Make it known to everyone that you can save quite a bit of electricity with even just minor changes… and save money doing it, to boot.

  22. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Fracking will run out of steam, as the rapid depletion rates, the huge numbers of wells and the waste water problem all combine. It’s just a matter of how long the process takes and how much damage is done in the meantime.

  23. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    When Pearl Harbor occurred, right on schedule, FDR didn’t ‘leave it to the Market’ in his response. He governed ie he issued orders and made things happen. And the danger this time is immeasurably greater than then. Obama is a follower, a servant of the real power in the land, not a leader. Four more wasted years coming up, then…what?

  24. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Dennis, ‘..longer than Stonehenge’, as well as being a little dumbed-down in construction, is also, in my opinion, more ‘soft denialism’. In truth we are destined for climatic chaos for hundreds of millennia if we do not change course, about 1988. Lacking a TARDIS, we’ll have to make do. Just the thermal inertia of the oceans is certain to cause a crisis tens of times longer than all human history, heretofore.
    As to your inquiry as to why Mr Lynas excites my ‘disapprobation’, I can only say ‘Copenhagen’, where I found his histrionic attempts to blame it all on China completely discreditable, ‘nuclear energy’, where his advocacy seems opportunistic, to me at least, and last, but most tellingly, ‘GE crops’, where his recent conversion to this pointless, dangerous and destructive industry didn’t surprise me at all and neither did his hectoring and contemptuous criticism of those opposed to the Agribusiness behemoths he now so clearly admires. I’m sure that there will be more.

  25. Merrelyn Emery says:

    A gathering of the clans is exactly what is required Brian and I hope you all who are members of various groups can push those to pull it together. If and when Obama does this something, it will carry much greater clout if it is supported by a united front of activist groups, ME

  26. Brian R Smith says:

    Thanks for the encouragement. Coordination (especially on message and media strategy) is what will give power to a groundswell movement. As to purpose, being backup for whatever Obama comes up with is not what I have in mind. Rather, an organization of the clans, if you will, that stands unequivocally for the science and is capable of leading the public to consensus on the reality of the problem (however hard or expensive that is) is a necessity now and into the future, regardless of what Obama comes up with. Or, more likely, in spite of it. Washington is going to come up short. There has to be a bigger plan than fighting denialists without visible, major public support. Forging that support is well within the power of climate collaborators.

  27. Merrelyn Emery says:

    All power to you – I didn’t mean to imply support for BHO only, ME

  28. Dennis Tomlinson says:

    I was aware if the Lynas GMO affliction, but not the other maladies you relate. I read his “Six Degrees” book a few years back and found it to be a rather good summary of where we might be headed. Speaking of which, I am convinced the Climate is on the verge of shifting states to a hotter, more hostile, more brutish, less livable, but hopefully stable state – a-la the Pliocene. That would be consistent with Wilson’t “bottleneck” as well as Paul Gilding’s prediction of an evolutionary leap for some smaller number of species.
    As for Mr. Archer, I’m a bit kinder than your “soft denialism”. He does, after all, wander the hallowed halls at the University of Chicago all-the-while avoiding any and all residual influences from the ghost of Milton Friedman.

  29. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Six Degrees, OK. Time since, a familiar trek to the more ‘rewarding’ Right, in my opinion at least. Way, way, way, too common an occurrence. I don’t trust ‘The Guardian’ much any more either, as with today’s laboured attack on the BBC ‘Africa’ series for ‘exaggerating’ temperature rises in Africa. Perfect fodder for denialists to start screeching ‘alarmist’, ‘Chicken Little’ and the rest of their stunning intellectual arsenal. And, right on cue, the Comments, which, these days, are so far to the Right as to be quite depressing (so much for The Guardian’s readership, or its ‘Moderation’ policies)were along precisely those lines. And, No, I am not paranoid.