The Environmental Protection Agency released sweeping guidelines on Monday aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. power plants. The guidelines, pushed out through executive order, will cut carbon pollution by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.
“By leveraging cleaner energy sources and cutting energy waste, this plan will clean the air we breathe while helping slow climate change so we leave a safe and healthy future for our kids,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.
America’s 1,000 fossil fuel-fired power plants create one-third of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions—the largest single source of such pollution today. The plan not only estimates massive cuts in carbon emissions but also hopes to solve the issue of an aging power plant fleet. The average age of a coal unit is 42 years, while a natural gas unit is only 14 years old, according to the EPA.
The new EPA rules will operate under flexible federal-state partnerships, which will allow individual states to craft their own plans in reducing their power plant carbon emissions under the new federal guidelines. This will allow states to use their existing clean-energy initiatives and incorporate them with additional federal criteria announced Monday.
Thirty-eight states have existing renewable energy goals, and 10 states have specific programs to reduce market-based greenhouse gas emissions, according to the EPA. These sorts of programs will be able to stay in place in order to comply with the new federal regulations.
While the EPA estimates its plans climate benefits will be worth between $55 billion and $93 billion per year in 2030, critics argue that such heavy carbon regulation will stifle an already sluggish economic recovery and prevent the U.S. from maximizing the manufacturing resurgence it has enjoyed in recent years.
The National Association of Manufacturers criticized the proposal, saying it could jeopardize manufacturing’s reliance on the “secure and affordable energy” industry needs to compete in a global economy.
“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,” NAM President Jay Timmons said in a statement. “Manufacturers believe there is a better way,” he said. “We need a more balanced approach, one that allows our nation’s manufacturers to do what they do best: find solutions and innovate.”
Similarly, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a report last week saying the EPA’s guidelines may cost the U.S. economy upward of $50 billion a year between now and 2030. In addition to a GDP hit, the Chamber said, the U.S. economy will lose almost a quarter-million jobs a year if the EPA guidelines are enacted.
“Given the significant and sustained harm to the U.S economy coupled with the limited overall impact on worldwide greenhouse gas emissions that would result from implementing these regulations, serious questions must be raised and answered about the timing and scope of what EPA is pursuing,” the Chamber noted.
But the EPA and the Obama administration have strongly defended the carbon cut regulations. While the plan is estimated to cost between $7.3 billion and $8.8 billion, the agency calculates the cut in emissions will save between 2,700 and 6,600 lives by 2030—for American families, that adds up to $7 in health savings for every dollar invested in the EPA’s plans.
“We don’t have to choose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment,” McCarthy said. “Our action will sharpen America’s competitive edge, spur innovation, and create jobs.”
All states must submit their plans for carbon reduction by June 2016, and they will have an additional 15 years after the Clean Power Plan is finalized to fully implement their carbon reduction programs.