The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has passed the first Clean Air Act standard for future power plants.
The rule is a step towards creating cleaner energy and decreasing pollution levels generated by the energy sector.
The new standard is a result of a 2007 Supreme Court decision in the case Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, wherein several states sued the EPA to force the agency to begin regulating air pollution caused by carbon dioxide (CO2) and greenhouse gases.
The Clean Air Act will only apply to future power plants, but even these can qualify for exemption. According to the EPA, the passed standard will exclude:
- New plants that have permits and plan to begin construction within the next 12 months
- Power plants renewing permits that are already a part of a Department of Energy demonstration project
- Plants that will not burn any fossil fuels
- Any power plants not located in the continental US
The Clean Air Act is a standard based on compromise with the energy sector, allowing for slower change over the long term, if at all, where necessary. The EPA already believes that most of the new natural gas combined cycle units (95% of them) will not need to adjust at all to meet the carbon pollution standard.
Further, any new power plants that plan to employ a carbon capture and storage scheme will not need to meet the pollution cap average each year, as long as the plant’s 30 year average is lower than the proposed standard’s average over the same period of time.
According to ThinkProgress.org, the carbon pollution rule sets the standard at no more than 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour of electricity that is produced. Average natural gas units only emit approximately 800-850 pounds, while coal plants emit over 1,700 pounds of CO2 per MWh.
While this is well above the EPA’s standard, it does not apply to already existing plants, and new plants have a wider range of technology available to help them meet this standard.
The new Clean Air Act for carbon pollution is a landmark piece of regulation in that it is one of the first federal rules for CO2 pollution, it will be another 30 years before it can be determined as successful.