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AS IT IS - Obama Proposes Limits on Power Plant Pollution

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The coal-fired Plant Scherer is shown in operation early Sunday, June 1, 2014, in Juliette, Ga. The Obama administration unveiled a plan Monday to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by nearly a third over the next 15 years.
The coal-fired Plant Scherer is shown in operation early Sunday, June 1, 2014, in Juliette, Ga. The Obama administration unveiled a plan Monday to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by nearly a third over the next 15 years.

The Obama administration has proposed stronger rules to limit pollution from American power stations. The proposed rules would affect production of carbon dioxide and other gases linked to rising temperatures worldwide. The administration says the measures will help protect the nation's health. And it says they will put the United States in a stronger leadership position to fight climate change.

President Barack Obama announced the proposed pollution rules early last week.

"Today about 40 percent of America's carbon pollution comes from power plants. But right now there are no national limits to the amount of carbon pollution that existing plants can pump into the air we breathe. None."

The new Clean Power Plan is aimed at the more than 600 coal-fired power plants across the United States. These power centers are the single largest producer of carbon pollution in the country.

Gina McCarthy is head of the Environmental Protection Agency. She said it is a moral duty to act for the good of public health.

"When we do, we'll turn risks of climate into business opportunity. We will spur innovation and investment, and we'll build a world-leading clean energy economy."

The plan would require a 30 percent reduction in climate-changing emissions from 2005 levels by the year 2030. Ms. McCarthy says flexibility is built into how states enforce the rule.

"Each state is different, so each goal and each path can be different."

The proposal offers a number of choices. Kevin Kennedy directs the U.S. Climate Initiative for the World Resources Institute.

"The flexibility that she is talking about (is) the ability to look at the entire electricity system, so that you can look at energy efficiency. You can look at renewables. You can look at switching fuels from coal to natural gas, making more use of existing natural gas plants that have been sitting relatively idle for the last decade."

Coal plants produce nearly one-third of the U.S. electric supply. Jeff Holmstead formerly worked for the Environmental Protection Agency. Now he represents the coal industry for the law office of Bracewell & Giuliani. He says the new rule could force some plants to close. And he warns that higher electric rates could push industrial operations overseas.

"And to some extent, we're seeing that happen already in Europe, where Europe has had almost no investment from heavy industry and heavy industries that formerly were in Europe are moving to China or India and in some cases even in the United States, because power prices here today are significantly lower than they are in Europe."

Jeff Holmstead says the administration is wrong to propose a measure that critics say does little to solve the climate change problem. He suggests that investing in a technological fix would be a better way to deal with the issue.

"And until we can figure out a way to allow countries around the world to have the benefits that we enjoy from reliable affordable power, without coal, it is not going to make any different at all to impose expensive requirements in the United States."

Kevin Kennedy agrees that rules alone are not enough. He says the plan is an important sign to other countries that the United States is taking the lead in the battle against climate change.

"That makes it much more likely that you will be able to get a strong international agreement next year, where you would expect to see China and India and other countries coming to the table, more willing to think about reductions on their own."

The administration has announced a one-year period for comments on the proposals. After that, the rules will be finalized. The coal power industry is expected to fight the measure. United Nations negotiators hope to have a new climate change treaty in place by 2015.

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