Skip Navigation

Close and don't show again.

Your browser is out of date.

You may not get the full experience here on National Journal.

Please upgrade your browser to any of the following supported browsers:

EPA Chief Offers Glimpse Into Climate Rules for Existing Power Plants EPA Chief Offers Glimpse Into Climate Rules for Existing Power Plants

This ad will end in seconds
Close X

Not a member? Learn More »

Forget Your Password?

Don't have an account? Register »

Reveal Navigation


Homepage (Subscribers)

EPA Chief Offers Glimpse Into Climate Rules for Existing Power Plants

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

photo of Amy Harder
September 23, 2013

The Obama administration's climate-change rules targeting existing power plants will look vastly different from the ones Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy announced Friday.

The rules McCarthy unveiled last week, which apply only to plants not yet built, will require new coal-fired power plants to install costly technology called carbon, capture, and sequestration (known as CCS), which captures and stores carbon emissions underground instead of emitting the carbon into the atmosphere.

By contrast, the rules EPA is scheduled to unveil next summer will not require this technology, McCarthy told reporters at a breakfast briefing Monday hosted by The Christian Science Monitor.


The distinction is important but sometimes overlooked as critics of President Obama's climate-change agenda roundly pan the entire effort as a war against coal. The rules are poised to help reduce coal's share of the electricity pie—right now it's about 42 percent—over the next several decades. But coal-fired power is already facing significant challenges competing with natural gas, which accounts for 50 percent fewer carbon emissions than coal and, for right now, is both cheap and plentiful.

"It is really safe to say, if you read the rule, that CCS is really effective as a tool to reduce emissions when it is designed with the facility itself," McCarthy said in response to a question about whether EPA's rules for existing power plants would also require CCS. "It is not seen, at least at this stage, as an add-on that could be used to put on an existing unconventional coal facility."

CCS is considered a prohibitively costly technology that is being demonstrated in only a few places throughout the entire world and is not, for now, commercially available. McCarthy struck an optimistic tune on this issue Monday, just as she did in Friday's announcement, which prompted several questions about the technology's viability.

"CCS is feasible and is available," McCarthy said Monday. "We're not suggesting that it doesn't add cost to coal, compared to conventional coal. But if you're looking at coal being a viable fuel for the future over the next decades, when we believe climate change must be addressed internationally, it does create a path forward."

EPA's rules for the roughly 6,600 power plants operating throughout the country today, including nearly 600 coal-fired plants, will rely on a wholly different method of rule-making compared with the rules announced Friday.

"The new power plant [rule] follows what everyone thinks of the traditional approach that EPA has," McCarthy said. "Set a standard on what science tells you to reduce and also on technology availability."

The rule affecting existing sources, which EPA is scheduled to propose by June 2014, will not be an across-the-country technology standard.

"EPA is supposed to look at guidelines for what kind of reductions nationally are achievable, and then each state is supposed to develop its own plan, take a look at its own suite of activities, and look at what's reasonable," McCarthy said. As potential methods of emissions-cutting states could pursue, McCarthy cited more ambitious energy-efficiency upgrades and integrating more renewable energy into the electric grid.

"We know where the investments in clean energy are going," McCarthy said. "Renewables are getting to a tipping point now where they make great sense."

McCarthy also reacted to the news of a potential government shutdown, which would occur Oct. 1 unless Congress doesn't pass a continuing resolution to keep funding the government.

"It will mean that EPA effectively shuts down with only a core group of individuals who are there in an event of a significant emergency," McCarthy said. "If there is no budget, EPA cannot pay its employees. People will not be working; the vast majority of people will not be working. It's safe to say I will be."

More Homepage (Subscribers)
Job Board
Search Jobs
Digital and Content Manager, E4C
American Society of Civil Engineers | New York, NY
American Society of Civil Engineers | CA
Neighborhood Traffic Safety Services Intern
American Society of Civil Engineers | Bellevue, WA
United Technologies Research Fellow
American Society of Civil Engineers | New York, NY
Process Engineering Co-op
American Society of Civil Engineers | Conshohocken, PA
Electrical Engineer Co-op
American Society of Civil Engineers | Findlay, OH
Application Engineer/Developer INTERN - Complex Fluids
American Society of Civil Engineers | Brisbane, CA
Application Engineer - Internships CAE/CFD Metro Detroit
American Society of Civil Engineers | Livonia, MI
Chief Geoscientist
American Society of Civil Engineers
Application Engineer - Internships CAE/CFD Metro Boston
American Society of Civil Engineers | Burlington, MA
Professional Development Program Engineer
American Society of Civil Engineers | Farmington Hills, MI
Civil Enginering Intern - Water/Wastewater/Site-Development
American Society of Civil Engineers | Sacramento, CA
Staff Accountant
American Society of Civil Engineers | Englewood, CO
Biomedical Service Internship Position
American Society of Civil Engineers | Flint, MI
comments powered by Disqus