Obama proposes tighter emission limits for coal plants

President Barack Obama is using his executive authority to propose new Environmental Protection Agency regulations on coal-fired electric plants across the nation.

The new EPA rules would attempt to cut carbon emissions from power plants by 30 percent.

“Nationwide, by 2030, this rule would achieve CO2 emission reductions from the power sector of approximately 30 percent from CO2 emission levels in 2005,” the proposed regulation states. “This goal is achievable because innovations in the production, distribution and use of electricity are already making the power sector more efficient and sustainable while maintaining an affordable, reliable and diverse energy mix.”

The EPA says the regulation will also “reduce pollutants that contribute to the soot and smog that make people sick by over 25 percent.” The agency projects the reductions will avoid 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths and 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks in children.

States will have a variety of options to meet the goal, including improving energy efficiency of the coal-fired plants, changing how long the plants operate each day and increasing the amount of power derived in other ways through renewable energy.

“As president, and as a parent, I refuse to condemn our children to a planet that’s beyond fixing,” Obama said in his weekly address Saturday.

The regulation gives states a deadline of June 30, 2016, to submit their plans.

Brian Manthey, spokesman for Wisconsin Energy Corp., the Milwaukee-based parent company of We Energies, said it is too early to estimate the impact the new rules will have on the utility.

“It’s important to note that we maintain our plants to retain efficiency. For example, the new coal-fueled units at Oak Creek are among the most efficient in the U.S. Even our older units at Oak Creek are in the top 10 percent in efficiency among coal plants in the Midwest. As a result they are emitting less CO2/unit of energy because of their efficiency,” Manthey said. “We have been a leader on reducing emissions and the final version of the rule should give credit for early actions, such as repowering of Port Washington from coal to natural gas, our plan to convert (the Menomonee) Valley from coal to natural gas and our significant investment in renewables – the two largest wind farms in the state’s and the new biomass plant. Since 2000, we have increased our generation capacity by 50 percent while cutting emissions (nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, mercury and particulate matter) by more than 80 percent.”

By acting through a regulation rather than proposing a law, the president skirts Congress, prompting some Republicans to predict that requirements will kill jobs in the coal industry.

“The administration has set out to kill coal and its 800,000 jobs,” Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo) said in the GOP weekly address Saturday. “If it succeeds in death by regulation, we’ll all be paying a lot more money for electricity — if we can get it.”

U.S. Chamber president and CEO Thomas Donohue said, “Today’s regulations issued by EPA add immense cost and regulatory burdens on America’s job creators. They will have a profound effect on the economy, on businesses, and on families. The Chamber will be actively participating in EPA’s input process on these regulations, and will be educating our members and affiliates about their impacts.”

However, environmental advocates say such claims are exaggerated.

“This is something we can’t put off, and the President deserves huge credit for making this his legacy,” said David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The EPA will conduct four public hearings on the proposal.

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