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First Carbon Pollution Standard for future power plants proposed by EPA

Based on the 2007 Supreme Court ruling, we were expecting it; and now the EPA proposal will regulate carbon pollution for future power plants. Question is: How long will it take for similar or more stringent rules to be extended toward autos?

According to news release by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the proposed standards can be met by a range of power facilities burning different fossil fuels, including natural gas technologies that are already widespread, as well as coal with technologies to reduce carbon emissions. Even without today’s action, the power plants that are currently projected to be built going forward would already comply with the standard. As a result, EPA does not project additional cost for industry to comply with this standard.

For the record, this action centers on a 2007 Supreme Court ruling which gave the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the right to enact such a proposal. Today’s proposal is thus the first Clean Air Act standard specific to carbon pollution from new power plants. EPA’s proposed standard also reflects the ongoing trend in the power sector to build cleaner plants that take advantage of American-made technologies, including new, clean-burning, efficient natural gas generation, which is already the technology of choice for new and planned power plants.

At the same time, the rule creates a path forward for new technologies to be deployed at future facilities that will allow companies to burn coal, while emitting less carbon pollution. The rulemaking proposed today only concerns new generating units that will be built in the future, and does not apply to existing units already operating or units that will start construction over the next 12 months.

“Today we’re taking a common-sense step to reduce pollution in our air, protect the planet for our children, and move us into a new era of American energy,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “Right now there are no limits to the amount of carbon pollution that future power plants will be able to put into our skies – and the health and economic threats of a changing climate continue to grow. We’re putting in place a standard that relies on the use of clean, American made technology to tackle a challenge that we can’t leave to our kids and grandkids.”

Currently, there is no uniform national limit on the amount of carbon pollution new power plants can emit. As a direct result of the Supreme Court’s 2007 ruling, EPA in 2009 determined that greenhouse gas pollution threatens Americans’ health and welfare by leading to long lasting changes in our climate that can have a range of negative effects on human health and the environment.

The proposed standard, which only applies to power plants built in the future, is flexible and would help minimize carbon pollution through the deployment of the same types of modern technologies and steps that power companies are already taking to build the next generation of power plants. EPA’s proposal is in line with these investments and will ensure that this progress toward a cleaner, safer and more modern power sector continues.

Prior to developing this standard, EPA engaged in an extensive and open public process to gather the latest information to aid in developing a carbon pollution standard for new power plants. The agency is now seeking additional comment and information, including public hearings, and will take that input fully into account as it completes the rulemaking process. EPA’s comment period will be open for 60 days following publication in the Federal Register.

The Connection to Autos

With the advent of more and more grid-using, plug-in electric vehicles, the power plants which feed the grid will become under greater scrutiny than ever before; albeit, the EPA seems to be taking a fair and open approach, as opposed to privately shoving a rule or ten down everyone’s throat.

That decision by the Supreme Court, though, really sets the stage for a new set of air standards for autos as well. That is why the auto industry best take heed, and are already wisely reacting. Ford, for example, has downsized its engines called EcoBoost so as to meet the next wave of pollution standards as well as the next wave of MPG mandates.

Fact is, downsizing engines reduces pollution. Unfortunately, it decreases power, which is why all OEMS are now going heavy with turbochargers.

The OEMs are also experimenting with more efficient lean-burn technologies. Consider the HCCI which uses high compression ignition using gasoline. Some are even looking into the split-cycle technology engines like that of Scuderi Engine and Tour Engine. Each has the ability to be more efficient, plus add the dimension of an air hybrid without all the high costs that surround lithium-ion batteries.

Truth is, even according to government statistics, the majority of vehicles using gasoline and nat-gas will still outnumber the EVs even by 2030, unless the prices reduce drastically. Point is, cutting pollution on the majority of cars will far outweigh the benefits of a low volume of pollution-free vehicles which may still be subject to the pollution levels of the powerplant that recharges it.

[Image Source: EPA website]