New EPA Regulations: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in conjunction with the Obama Administration, has released their plan for regulating carbon emissions standards in the U.S.. This new plan would cut carbon pollution from the nation’s power plants 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. These new regulations will target the U.S.’s single largest contributor to carbon emissions, which are a leading cause of climate altering pollution.

There has been plenty of talk from a number of groups as to whether these regulations are acceptable. Some are concerned that the new regulations will reduce jobs in the coal industry and increase energy costs for Americans, while others are concerned that these regulations aren’t doing enough and need to elevate the standards and broaden the scope of regulation.

The Democratic Party voter base is especially divided on the EPA’s new regulations. While some are advocating for the importance of combating global climate change, others are concerned for the inevitable decrease in jobs in current workforces.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) has publicly announced their disapproval for the new standards.

“The new rules would in effect stop the construction of new coal-fired power plants in the United States by enforcing emission-reduction goals that just aren’t realistic using today’s technology for carbon capture and sequestration,” IBEW president Edwin Hill said in a statement.

So, with that, we will inevitably build new, more sustainable power infrastructure while developing new technology to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants even further. Sounds good to me. It is imperative to set regulations for carbon emissions coming from our power plants. Responsible for 40 percent of U.S. carbon pollution, energy generation is the single largest source of climate altering greenhouse gases in the U.S.. We currently limit mercury, arsenic, lead, soot and other pollutants from our energy generators, but not carbon pollution. Carbon emissions cannot continue to exist unregulated.

But others disagree. “Clearly, it is designed to materially damage the ability of conventional energy sources to provide reliable and affordable power,” wrote Scott Segal, a lawyer with the firm Bracewell & Giuliani, “which in turn can inflict serious damage on everything from household budgets to industrial jobs.” Segal, who represents members of the coal industry, plans to sue over the rule.

But these new regulations give energy producers plenty of time to transition to cleaner forms of energy production which will greatly reduce increases in energy prices due to infrastructure costs. As we move beyond coal, we cannot ignore the fact that jobs related to the coal industry will disappear. With the growth of renewable energy in the future, we have the opportunity to transition those individuals displaced by the shrinking coal industry into the renewable one. Areas that are optimal for both coal and wind harvesting, such as the Appalachian Mountains, can make the conscious effort to retrain workers to help smooth the transition to renewable energy.

While some may find the new proposed regulations to be too strict, there are others who feel that it is not enough and that we should be working harder to make our energy industry cleaner and safer. There are concerns that we have not widened the scope of regulation enough, leaving some less than desirable energy options radically unaffected. “Although all options for cleaner power generation are on the table, it’s clear that nuclear power plants also offer an opportunity for the utilities to support long-term demand growth while avoiding increased carbon emissions,” wrote S&P analyst Judith Waite.

Nuclear has always been a point of contention among those concerned about carbon emissions. While nuclear power plants do emit less carbon than coal-fired power plants, their safety record, or lack thereof, makes it difficult to endorse.

Given that current global carbon emissions are set to increase in the future, there is a growing number of individuals and organizations that would like to attack carbon emissions and dirty energy generation more head-on.

“These modest measures to cut power plant pollution are not enough to address the worsening climate crisis,” said Bill Snape, chief counsel for the Center for Biological Diversity. “We see the signs of climate chaos around us every day, whether it’s catastrophic storms or shattered temperature records. If we don’t get our act together now and make serious cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, we’ll put our country at risk and damage our climate beyond the ability of future generations to repair.”

We need to do more to mitigate the effects of the impending climate crisis. However, these things can only move so quickly. We can pass these regulations and work to modify and elaborate the standards. These regulations are a good start and will send a message to the global community that we need to act in unity to find answers.

“This momentous announcement raises the bar for controlling carbon emissions in the United States,” said Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute, a Washington research organization, “These new standards send a powerful message around the world.”

“I fully expect action by the United States to spur others in taking concrete action,” said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change.

President Obama would likely agree and had a message for the American people in his weekly address on June 1st: “I refuse to condemn our children to a planet beyond fixing. In America, we don’t have to choose between the health of our economy and the health of our children.”

On June 23rd the United States Supreme Court voted 5-4 to restrict the EPAs ability to regulate some of the nation’s largest polluters. It doesn’t affect proposed regulations limiting emissions from existing power plants, and also preserves the agency’s continuing authority over non-greenhouse gas pollutants. The Court ruling revisits the EPAs interpretation of the Clean Air Act. The EPA, despite this ruling, is still confident in the ability of the new regulations to make a dent in our nation’s carbon emission from fossil fuel fired power plants, says the EPA in a statement:

“Today is a good day for all supporters of clean air and public health and those concerned with creating a better environment for future generations. Today, the Supreme Court largely upheld EPA’s approach to focusing Clean Air Act permits on only the largest stationary sources of greenhouse gases such as power plants, refineries, and other types of industrial facilities.”

As the importance of mitigating climate change and the growing interest in renewable energy increases, we will see great paradigm shifts in the U.S. and the world. That renaissance will be of a clean, safe, reliable, affordable, renewable and sustainable energy industry. We have yet to find the answer, but we’re starting to find the pieces to that puzzle.

By Stefan Reed

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