Forgot Password?
Home arrow GreeniacsArticles arrow Energy arrow Power Plant Standards
Written by Elizabeth Jones   
Share |
Thursday, 05 July 2012

Power Plant Standards

Power plants are currently the largest singular sources of carbon pollution in the United States.1 Each year in the U.S. more than 1,500 power plants release approximately 2.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air.2 Doctors and scientists have repeatedly warned us that this kind of carbon pollution imposes staggering health costs and contributes to extreme weather.3 Yet there have never been any uniform national limits on the amount of carbon pollution that power plants are able to emit. (If you are interested, check to see how much your local power plants pollute here.)

On March 27 of this year (2012), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took some first steps towards setting emissions regulation standards. This came in the form of a released and much-anticipated rule limiting carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants.4 The proposed Carbon Pollution Standard for New Power Plants under Section 111 of the Clean Air Act will set national limits on the amount of carbon pollution new power plants can emit. The new rule requires that any new power plant in the United States with a capacity greater than 25 megawatt electric (MWe) built can emit no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour (lb CO2/MWh).5 To put these numbers in perspective, you should know that most modern natural gas plants already meet this standard. Conventional coal plants, on the other hand, average about 1,800 pounds per megawatt-hour.6 The new rule effectively means that any new stationary source will need to be a natural gas fired plant, a renewable energy facility, or a coal plant built with advanced carbon capture technology.

Legal Background of the New Rule

In 2007 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in Massachusetts v. EPA, that greenhouse gases (GHGs) meet the definition of “air pollutant” under the Clean Air Act.7 This decision consequently assigned the EPA the task of determining whether GHGs pose a threat to public health and welfare.8 On December 15, 2009, the EPA found that the current and projected concentrations of greenhouse gases endanger the public health and welfare of current and future generations.9 The EPA then proposed a schedule for establishing greenhouse gas standards under the Clean Air Act for fossil fuel fired power plants and petroleum refineries.10

What Does the New Standard Mean?

Given that 2012 is an election year, new GHG regulations will certainly draw criticisms from political candidates who do not believe in climate change or who are averse to government regulation. However, the standard for new power plants is more notable for what it WILL NOT require rather than any alleged “overreaching.” Here are a few reasons why this development should be relatively uncontroversial:
  • Existing power plants are not affected. This EPA regulation does not apply to any existing power plants, or any plants that will begin construction over the next 12 months.

  • The development of new coal-fired plants was steeply declining even before this rule. New coal-fired plants do not make sound business sense in an era of inexpensive natural gas, rising coal prices, increasingly cost-competitive renewable energy sources, declining consumer demand, and strong community opposition.11
As EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson put it, the new regulations are “a common-sense step to reduce pollution in our air, protect the planet for our children, and move us into a new era of American energy.”12

When Will Existing Power-Plant GHG Emissions Be Regulated?

In late March of 2012, EPA Administrator Jackson told reporters that at this time the EPA has “no plans to address existing plants.”13 Existing power plants emit about a third of the nation’s total emissions, which is more than 2 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions a year,14 so regulating these plants will be a crucial next step toward reducing GHG emissions in the U.S.

Future regulation of existing plants does fall within EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act. For certain pollutants, CAA section 111(d)(1) requires the EPA to prescribe regulations for state plans covering “existing source[s].”15 However, due to the politically charged nature of this issue, it seems that action on existing sources will not happen any time soon.16 Be sure to make your voice heard! The EPA will seek comments and information, including via public hearings, as it completes the new power plant rulemaking process.

Smoke Coming From Industral Plant 17

Browse all Greeniacs Articles Browse all Greeniacs Guides        Browse all Greeniacs Articles

7 Id.;;







Add your comment
RSS comments

Only registered users can write comments.
Please login or register.

Click here to Register.  Click here to login.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 05 July 2012 )


Green Facts

  • Recycling 100 million cell phones can save enough energy to power 18,500 homes in the U.S. for a year.

  • Americans use 100 million tin and steel cans every day.

  • An aluminum can that is thrown away instead of recycled will still be a can 500 years from now!

  • In California homes, about 10% of energy usage is related to TVs, DVRs, cable and satellite boxes, and DVD players.

  • States with bottle deposit laws have 35-40% less litter by volume.

  • Shaving 10 miles off of your weekly driving pattern can eliminate about 500 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions a year.

  • A steel mill using recycled scrap reduces related water pollution, air pollution, and mining wastes by about 70%.

  • Plastic bags and other plastic garbage thrown into the ocean kill as many as 1,000,000 sea creatures every year.

  • In the United States, automobiles produce over 20 percent of total carbon emissions. Walk or bike and you'll save one pound of carbon for every mile you travel.

  • You will save 300 pounds of carbon dioxide for every 10,000 miles you drive if you always keep your car’s tires fully inflated.

  • Every week about 20 species of plants and animals become extinct.

  • Due to tiger poaching, habitat destruction, and other human-tiger conflicts, tigers now number around 3,200—a decrease in population by about 70% from 100 years ago.

  • A tree that provides a home with shade from the sun can reduce the energy required to run the air conditioner and save an additional 200 to 2,000 pounds of carbon over its lifetime.

  • Current sea ice levels are at least 47% lower than they were in 1979.

  • Less than 1% of electricity in the United States is generated from solar power.

  • Recycling for one year at Stanford University saved the equivalent of 33,913 trees and the need for 636 tons of iron ore, coal, and limestone.

  • Recycling aluminum saves 95% of the energy used to make the material from scratch.

  • A laptop consumes five times less electricity than a desktop computer.

  • One recycled aluminum can will save enough energy to run a 100-watt bulb for 20 hours, a computer for 3 hours, or a TV for 2 hours.

  • You will save 100 pounds of carbon for each incandescent bulb that you replace with a compact fluorescent bulb (CFL), over the life of the bulb.

  • Washing your clothes in cold or warm instead of hot water saves 500 pounds of carbon dioxide a year, and drying your clothes on a clothesline six months out of the year would save another 700 pounds.

  • Glass can be recycled over and over again without ever wearing down.

  • A single quart of motor oil, if disposed of improperly, can contaminate up to 2,000,000 gallons of fresh water.

  • 77% of people who commute to work by car drive alone.

  • It takes 6,000,000 trees to make 1 year's worth of tissues for the world.

  • For every 38,000 bills consumers pay online instead of by mail, 5,058 pounds of greenhouse gases are avoided and two tons of trees are preserved.

  • Americans throw away more than 120 million cell phones each year, which contribute 60,000 tons of waste to landfills annually.

  • Refrigerators built in 1975 used 4 times more energy than current models.

  • Rainforests are being cut down at the rate of 100 acres per minute.

  • Bamboo absorbs 35% more carbon dioxide than equivalent stands of trees.

  • If every U.S. household turned the thermostat down by 10 degrees for seven hours each night during the cold months, and seven hours each weekday, it would prevent nearly gas emissions.

  • American workers spend an average of 47 hours per year commuting through rush hour traffic. This adds up to 23 billion gallons of gas wasted in traffic each year.

  • Recycling 1 million laptop computers can save the amount of energy used by 3,657 homes in the U.S. over the course of a year.

  • Turning off the tap when brushing your teeth can save as much as 10 gallons a day per person.

  • The World Health Organization estimates that 2 million people die prematurely worldwide every year due to air pollution.

  • Americans throw away enough aluminum to rebuild our entire commercial fleet of airplanes every 3 months

  • You’ll save two pounds of carbon for every 20 glass bottles that you recycle.

  • Nudge your thermostat up two degrees in the summer and down two degrees in the winter to prevent 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

  • 82 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. come from burning fossil fuels.