WASHINGTON – The Obama administration on Friday set the first-ever limits on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, but their impact could be minimal because they don’t apply to existing plants and there are few coal-fired power plants being built in the United States.
Just two new coal-fired power plants are expected to open next year, according to data from the Energy Information Administration, and there are none set to open in 2015.
“As you look at current projections this rule won’t in itself get much in the way of reductions,” said Kevin Kennedy, who directs the U.S. Climate Initiative at the World Resources Institute, a think tank that focuses on the environment and economic development.
However, Kennedy said, the rule does send a signal that the Obama administration promises to deal with planet-warming carbon emissions. The real test will come next year when the Environmental Protection Agency puts out its greenhouse gas standards for existing power plants.
EPA put forth the limits for future power plants as a first step in President Barack Obama’s promise to tackle climate change. The rule would require new coal-fired power plants to install costly technology to capture carbon and store it underground. The EPA standard would require future coal plants to generally meet a limit of 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per megawatt hour. They currently emit an average of more than 1,700 pounds per megawatt hour.
The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a coal industry trade group, called the rule an effective ban on the construction of future coal-fired power plants.
The industry is expected to mount a legal challenge to the EPA rule on new power plants, which will be finalized after a public comment period.