On Tuesday, March 26 Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson issued a draft rule that places limits on greenhouse gas emissions from future power plants for the first time. U.S. power plants emit about 40 percent of the carbon pollution in the United States and are the largest individual sources of carbon pollution in the United States. They are responsible for 2.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide pollution annually. Currently, there are no uniform national limits on the amount of carbon pollution that future power plants will be able to emit.

The proposed rule will require any future fossil fuel electric utility generating units producing more than 25 megawatts to emit no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt (lbs CO2/MWh gross). For reference, a new natural gas combined cycle plant produces emissions of approximately 800 lbs CO2/MWh and a new super-critical pulverized coal plant has emissions of around 1773 lbs CO2/MWh. The rule will apply to fossil-fuel-fired electric utility generating units including fossil-fuel-fired boilers, integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) units and stationary combined cycle turbine units that generate electricity for sale and are larger than 25 megawatts (MW).

The rule will have a phase-in period over the next 12 months so that coal plants that are ready to be built may move forward. New power plants that are designed to use coal or petroleum coke would be able to incorporate technology to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to meet the standard, such as carbon capture and storage (CCS). It does not affect existing plants and provides an exception for coal plants that are already permitted and beginning construction within a year. In addition, the rule would allow new power plants to begin operating with higher levels of emissions as long as the average annual emissions over a period of 30 years meet the standard.

The proposed rule is rooted in Massachusetts v. EPA , the 2007 Supreme Court ruling that required the EPA to decide whether carbon dioxide was a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. In 2009, EPA issued a finding that CO2 threatens Americans' health and welfare by leading to changes in our climate that can have negative effects on human health and the environment. The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to regulate pollution from new or modified facilities through the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) program. NSPS are technology-based performance standards which EPA establishes for a given category of facility, which state environmental agencies then translate into requirements for individual facilities.

EPA's regulatory analysis projects only two gigawatts of new coal-fired capacity with carbon capture will be built by 2020, while seven gigawatts of natural gas-fired capacity will be built during that period. Supporters, including many public health organizations, say the rule would take a necessary step to combat the dangers of climate pollution and gives power companies needed regulatory certainty to proceed with construction of new facilities. Jackson called the proposed rules "a common-sense step to reduce pollution in the air, protect the planet for our children and move us into a new era of American energy." Critics argue that the rule is evidence that the Obama administration’s "all of the above" energy policy does not include coal, and charge that the rule will only drive up the cost of electricity. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) said he would introduce a resolution under the Congressional Review Act that would invalidate the rule once it is finalized and prevent EPA from crafting similar regulations in the future.

The draft rule is now open for a 60-day comment period. For more information, click here .