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NRDC’s Plan to Reduce Power Plant Emissions


The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released a proposal to reduce power plant pollution by 26 percent by 2020 and 34 percent by 2025. The plan’s key component is that the EPA, partnering with states, would set new carbon pollution standards under the Clean Air Act. The benefits of the plan, if carried out, outweigh the costs by 15 times as much. The price tag in 2020 would be $4 billion, but benefits would be $25 to 60 billion, six to 15 times greater than the costs.

The plan piggybacks on the EPA proposed standards to limit the carbon pollution from new power plants. In April 2012, the EPA proposed the Carbon Pollution Standard for New Power Plants under Section 111(b) which requires that new plants can only emit 1,000 pounds of carbon per megawatt hour (lbs/mWh). Coal plants usually emit about 2,100 lbs./mWh and natural gas 1,000 lbs/mWh or less.

The EPA has not yet done anything to reduce emissions from existing fossil-fueled power plants. The NRDC labels generating power plants the “largest industrial source of pollution.” Generating power plants emit about 2.4 billion tons of carbon a year, about 40 percent of the total emissions in the U.S. Reducing pollution from generating power plants is a good way to tackle the problem of climate change.


There are two key parts to the NRDC proposal:

  1. The EPA would set state-specific emissions rates. The emissions standard for each state would be an overall emission rate average of all fossil fuel plants in the state.
  2. Power plant owners and states would have broad flexibility to meet standards in the most cost effective way.

brief on the proposal lays out specifically how the plan would work. The EPA would “first tally up the share of electricity generated by coal and gas-fired plants in each state during the baseline years.” Next, the agency would “set a target emission rate for each state for 2020, based on the state’s baseline share of coal and gas generation.” For example, a state that presently gets 90 percent of its fossil-fueled power from coal and 10 percent from gas would be required to reduce its 2020 emissions rate to 1,450 lbs/mWh. A state with 90 percent gas power plants would have a target of 1,050 lbs/mWh, and a state with 50/50 coal and gas generation would have a target of 1,250 lbs/mWh.

Energy efficiency is part of the proposal. Energy efficiency programs regulated by the states could earn credits for avoided power generation and pollution. Power generators could buy and use the credits towards emissions compliance obligations, which would lower their calculated average emissions rate.

There are many health and environmental benefits to the NRDC’s plan since it also includes limiting pollution from “traditional pollutants,” as the brief puts it, like sulfur and nitrogen oxides. The health benefits of the plan include preventing over 23,000 asthma attacks, avoiding over 2,300 emergency room visits and hospital admissions a year, and preventing thousands of premature deaths. There are also economic benefits as the plan would stimulate investments of over $90 billion in energy efficiency and renewables between now and 2020. The plan would also create jobs, as an NRDC blog post points out, because energy efficiency and renewable energy create local jobs.

In short, the NRDC plan would help the environment, create jobs for local economies, and bring health benefits to the American people.




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