The Obama administration on Monday announced one of the strongest actions ever taken by the U.S. government to fight climate change, a proposed Environmental Protection Agency regulation to cut carbon pollution from the nation's power plants 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.
The regulation takes aim at the largest source of carbon pollution in the United States, the nation's 600 coal-fired power plants. If it withstands an expected onslaught of legal and legislative attacks, experts say that it could close hundreds of the plants and also lead, over the course of decades, to systemic changes in the U.S. electricity industry, including transformations in how power is generated and used.
Gina McCarthy, the EPA administrator, unveiled the proposal in a speech Monday. "Today, climate change — fueled by carbon pollution — supercharges risks not just to our health, but to our communities, our economy, and our way of life," she said.
President Obama, who failed to push a sweeping climate change bill through Congress in his first term, is now acting on his own by using his executive authority under the 1970 Clean Air Act to issue the regulation.
Under the rule, states will be given a wide menu of policy options to achieve the pollution cuts. Rather than immediately shutting down coal plants, states would be allowed to reduce emissions by making changes across their electricity systems by installing wind and solar generation or energy-efficiency technology, and by starting or joining state and regional "cap and trade" programs, in which states agree to cap carbon pollution and buy and sell permits to pollute.
McCarthy said that the proposal will help the economy, not hurt it: "For over four decades, EPA has cut air pollution by 70 percent and the economy has more than tripled. Climate action doesn't dull America's competitive edge — it sharpens it. It spurs ingenuity and innovation."
The EPA forecasts that the rule will prevent 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths and 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks. There is no link between carbon pollution and asthma, but the EPA estimates that future coal plant closures will lead to a 25 percent reduction in traditional air pollutants like soot, sulfur and nitrogen, which are linked to respiratory diseases.