By Jennifer Jensen, Assistant Editor
On Tuesday, June 25, President Barack Obama laid out his Climate Action Plan to clamp down on carbon pollution generated by coal-fired power plants, both new and existing. In his speech, the president reiterated his 2009 pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 17% below 2005 levels by 2020.
To attain this goal, he has issued a Presidential Memorandum that directs the Environmental Protection Agency to establish the first-ever regulations limiting carbon dioxide emissions for existing power plants and finalize standards for new power plants—the EPA proposed standards for new plants in April 2012, but must submit a new draft by September 20.
The president has asked that a draft of the new rule be completed by June 2014 and finalized the following year.
“We limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury and sulfur and arsenic in our air, our water, but power plants can still dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air for free,” said President Obama during his speech at Georgetown University. “That’s not right, that’s not safe and it needs to stop.”
Power plants account for roughly one-third of all domestic greenhouse emissions, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Along with cutting carbon pollution, the president’s three-pronged approach also includes protecting the country from the impacts of climate change and leading the world in a coordinated assault on a changing climate.
The plan promotes a transition to cleaner energy by accelerating the permitting of clean energy projects, increasing funding for clean energy technology, adding more renewables on federal lands, and making up to $8 billion in loan guarantee authority available for advanced fossil energy projects.
According to the Obama administration, the U.S. has more than doubled generation of electricity from wind, solar and geothermal sources. It is the president’s goal to double renewable electricity again by 2020.
The plan also includes developing a strategy and opportunities to reduce emissions of methane and hydrofluorocarbons.
There is also a push to switch fuel from oil and coal to natural gas or renewables. Obama said he believes natural gas is “the transition fuel that can power our economy with less carbon pollution even as our businesses work to develop and then deploy more of the technology required for the even cleaner energy economy of the future.”
There is also a component in the plan to increase fuel economy standards.
For those in the coal industry, the most controversial and central element of the plan to limit carbon dioxide emissions has signaled another step toward what they call the president’s “war on coal.”
“Today’s announcement is only the latest effort in this administration’s war on coal, which is—by extension—a war on southwest Virginia and all coal-producing regions, our economy, our jobs and our people,” said U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-VA. “President Obama and his administration have long been waging this war, but today, his comments and the comments of adviser Daniel P. Schrag saying ‘…a war on coal is exactly what’s needed’ make it clear that the president wants to destroy the coal industry, the use of coal and a huge segment of our economy.”
This year, EPA regulations played a major role in the announced closure of 288 coal plants in 32 states, said President and CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity Robert Duncan.
“This is equivalent to shutting down the entire electricity supply of the state of New York,” he said. “Further regulation could force even more plant closures.”
In response to claims that this plan would destroy jobs and the economy, Obama pointed out the passage of the Clean Air Act. “Some of the same doomsayers were saying new pollution standards will decimate the auto industry,” he said. “Guess what—it didn’t happen. Our air got cleaner.”
He added that it wasn’t an either/or, when it came down to protecting the environment and promoting growth. “The old rules may say we can’t protect our environment and promote economic growth at the same time, but in America, we’ve always used new technologies—we’ve used science. We’ve used research and development and discovery to make the old rules obsolete.”
“The White House may truly believe that ‘a war on coal is exactly what is needed,’ as one senior White House adviser reportedly said recently, but a war on coal and other sources of affordable energy is actually a war on jobs and middle-class families,” said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. “In fact, coal alone is responsible for more than 760,000 American jobs and 40% of our electricity.”
U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz does not believe it is a “war on coal,” but believes Obama “expects fossil fuels, and coal specifically, to remain a significant contributor for some time.”
The way the administration is “looking at it is, what does it take for us to do to make coal part of a low carbon future?” Moniz told Reuters following the president’s speech. He added that this would include higher efficiency plants and new ways of utilizing coal.
Several in the coal industry have pointed out the leaps and bounds that have already been made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“In recent decades, the coal industry has made major strides in reducing pollution,” said John Pippy, CEO of the Coal Alliance. He noted that advances in technology have enabled new, coal-fired power plants to be substantially more efficient, with the typical new plant producing 70% to 80% fewer conventional emissions than the older plant it replaced.
National Mining Association Presi-dent and CEO Hal Quinn said, “New coal plants are best-in-class global leaders in generating efficient, clean, reliable and affordable electricity. Existing coal plants are being upgraded to be cleaner than ever before to supply reliable electricity that keeps our country growing and competitive. Our policies need to be aligned with our national interest so that coal continues to create jobs and keeps America competitive.”