Environment & Science

Landmark EPA rule aims to cut carbon 30 percent by 2030 (updated)

File photo: The Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant is seen in the early morning hours March 28, 2011 in Middletown, Pennsylvania. The Obama administration rolled out a plan Monday to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 30 percent by 2030.
File photo: The Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant is seen in the early morning hours March 28, 2011 in Middletown, Pennsylvania. The Obama administration rolled out a plan Monday to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 30 percent by 2030.
Jeff Fusco/Getty Images

Updated 12:01 p.m.: Reactions from California's Congress members, local leaders and others continued to pour in Monday after the Obama administration announced its plan to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants 30 percent by 2030.

Republican House Speaker John Boehner was harshly critical, warning that the new rules from the Environmental Protection Agency would cause a surge in electricity bills.

"The president’s plan is nuts, there's really no more succinct way to describe it," Boehner said in a statement. "Americans are still asking 'where are the jobs?' and here he is proposing rules to ship jobs overseas for years to come."

But longtime Congressman and Ranking Member Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), whose recent announcement that he would be retiring sparked a highly competitive open seat race, called the move "a major step forward" that "will protect public health, slow global warming, and create new clean energy jobs." He added:

"We are a can-do country and will be able to achieve the reasonable reductions required by the rule. Industry always exaggerates the impact of clear air regulations. But the history of the Clean Air Act shows we can have both a clean environment and a strong economy."

California Gov. Jerry Brown also praised the plan:

"While others delay and deny, the Obama Administration is confronting climate change head-on with these new standards. Clean energy policies are already working in California, generating billions of dollars in energy savings and more than a million jobs. Bold, sustained action will be required at every level and this is a major step forward."

Here's what others had to say:

Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles), House Democratic Caucus Chariman:

"The world is not flat and climate change is real. There can be no excuses when it comes to combating climate change. It's our responsibility to protect the air we breathe and the safety of our communities. We must responsibly boost our energy production to meet the needs of our growing economy without harming the health of future generations."

Mayor Eric Garcetti:

"Here in Los Angeles we are feeling the impacts of climate change, and the National Climate Assessment makes clear that we have an urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Given that electricity generation is our nation's single greatest source of those emissions, I applaud President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency for their proposal to limit carbon pollution from power plants, a key step in moving our nation towards a clean energy future."

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California), Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman:

"Thank goodness the President refuses to be bullied by those who have their heads in the sand, and whose obstruction is leading us off the climate change cliff. The President's proposal is respectful of the states’ roles and allows major flexibility, while ensuring that big polluters reduce their dangerous contributions to climate change."

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), Democratic Leader:

"The destructive effect of unrestrained carbon pollution is felt not only in rising temperatures and increased, more powerful natural disasters, but also in higher asthma rates in our children.  We already restrict mercury and arsenic pollution – it’s time we did the same for toxic carbon pollution.  These new standards will strengthen public health, create new jobs, spur innovation and lower electricity rates."

Tim Phillips, President of Americans for Prosperity:

"The tragedy is that while the new EPA regulations will hit taxpayers square in the pocketbook, even the administration admits they are 'unlikely' to have any meaningful impact on the environment.

"The new EPA regulations are a lose-lose. Americans can't afford more Obama regulations fueled by ideology."

— KPCC staff

7:57 a.m.: Landmark EPA rule aims to cut carbon 30 percent by 2030

The Obama administration rolled out a plan Monday to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 30 percent by 2030, setting in motion one of the most significant actions on global warming in U.S. history.

But exactly how states will meet customized targets likely will be pushed to the next administration. States could have until 2017 to submit a plan to cut power plant pollution, and 2018 if they join with other states to tackle the problem, according to the EPA's proposal. An executive order issued last summer had set a June 2016 deadline for state plans.

The 645-page rule, expected to be final next year, is a centerpiece of President Barack Obama's plans to reduce the pollution linked to global warming, a step that the administration hopes will get other countries to act when negotiations on a new international treaty resume next year.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy was expected to stress in remarks delivered at EPA headquarters later Monday that the rule would "ambitious, but achievable."

"The glue that holds this plan together — and the key to making it work — is that each state's goal is tailored to its own circumstances, and states have the flexibility to reach their goal in whatever works best for them," McCarthy said, according to prepared remarks released in advance.

Despite concluding in 2009 that greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare, a finding that triggered their regulation under the 1970 Clean Air Act, it has taken years for the administration to take on the nation's fleet ofpower plants. In December 2010, the Obama administration announced a "modest pace" for setting greenhouse gas standards for power plants, setting a May 2012 deadline.

Obama put them on the fast track last summer when he announced his climate action plan and a renewed commitment to climate change after the issue went dormant during his re-election campaign.

"Today, the president made good on his promise to American families that his administration would tackle the climate crisis, and clean up and modernize the way we power our country," said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune.

Power plants are the largest source of greenhouse gases in the U.S., accounting for about a third of the annual emissions that make the U.S. the second largest contributor to global warming on the planet.

Yet the rule carries significant political and legal risks, which were heightened by the EPA giving states beyond 2016 to submit plans.

The rule will help further diminishing coal's role in producing U.S. electricity. Coal, which once supplied about half the nation's electricity, has dropped to 40 percent as it has been replaced by booming supplies of natural gas and renewable sources such as wind and solar.

"Today's proposal from the EPA could singlehandedly eliminate this competitive advantage by removing reliable and abundant sources of energy from our nation's energy mix," Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, said in a statement issued Sunday.

The White House said Obama called a group of Democrats from both the House and Senate on Sunday to thank them for their support in advance of the rule's official release, which is expected to be rigorously attacked by Republicans and make Democrats up for re-election in energy-producing states nervous.

EPA data shows that the nation's power plants have reduced carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 13 percent since 2005, or about halfway to the goal the administration will set Monday. The agency is aiming to have about 26 percent cut by 2020.

But with coal-fired power plants already beleaguered by cheap natural gas prices and other environmental regulations, experts said getting there won't be easy. The EPA is expected to offer a range of options to states to meet targets that will be based on where they get their electricity and how much carbon dioxide they emit in the process.

While some states will be allowed to emit more and others less, overall the reduction will be 30 percent nationwide.

The options include making power plants more efficient, reducing the frequency at which coal-fired power plantssupply power to the grid, and investing in more renewable, low-carbon sources of energy. In addition, states could enhance programs aimed at reducing demand by making households and businesses more energy-efficient. Each of those categories will have a separate target tailor-made for each state.

Obama has already tackled the emissions from the nation's cars and trucks, announcing rules to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by doubling fuel economy. That standard will reduce carbon dioxide by more than 2 billion tons over the life of vehicles made in model years 2012-25. The power plant proposal will prevent about 430 million tons of carbon dioxide from reaching the atmosphere, based on the 30 percent figure and what power plants have already reduced since 2005.

— Associated Press

CORRECTION: An earlier headline for this story indicated the wrong deadline for the new EPA rule. KPCC regrets the error.