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EPA announces new proposed power plant standards

Rules affecting N.C. will likely be announced next summer

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On Sept. 20, the Environmental Protection Agency took steps to enact the first part of President Obama's Climate Action Plan when it proposed standards that would cut carbon emissions from new power plants.

Under the proposal, "new large natural gas-fired turbines," or natural-gas plants, would need to meet a limit of 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour, while new small natural-gas plants and coal-fired plants would need to meet a limit of 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour. The regulations would require any new coal power plants to be twice as efficient as the average one on line today, which emits about 2,250 pounds per megawatt-hour.

"These proposed standards will ensure that new power plants are built with available clean technology to limit carbon pollution, a requirement that is in line with investments in clean energy technologies that are already being made in the power industry," the EPA wrote in the statement.

Before it finalizes the standards, the agency will ask citizens and oil and gas industry representatives for feedback, which could modify the proposal. For example, energy experts wonder if a power plant being built in Georgia must comply with the rules, which won't affect any functioning power plants but will apply to "new" plants. The rules aren't subject to congressional review, but companies not in compliance will likely face hefty fines. If states refuse to implement the rules, the federal government will step in. Environment North Carolina's Dave Rogers expects that the new, more conservative General Assembly will comply with the standards.

"We hope that [state legislators] are willing to prioritize protecting the health of North Carolinians over any sort of partisan issues," Rogers said.

On June 25, as part of his Climate Action Plan, Obama directed the EPA to work closely with states and the energy industry to cut carbon emissions by at least 3 billion metric tons by 2030. North Carolina's 20 coal-fired plants and 10 natural-gas plants will fall under the jurisdiction of standards that experts expect will be announced next summer.

Though North Carolina's power plants are among the most polluting in the country — half of our CO2 emissions come from power plants (the other half comes from cars) — the state is a leader in clean-energy investment. Last year, North Carolina ranked fifth in states that added solar energy. Rogers said progress has also been made in developing the state's off-shore wind energy.

"We need to make sure we're starting to use energy of the 21st century instead of energy of the 20th century," he said.

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