Coal EPA carbon pollution regulations

Published on June 2nd, 2014 | by Tina Casey


Sneak Peek At New EPA Carbon Pollution Regs: 30 x 2030

June 2nd, 2014 by  

Word leaked out to The Wall Street Journal yesterday that the US Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed new rules for carbon pollution from existing power plants will call for a stunning 30 percent national average cut by 2030, based on 2005 emission levels. That’s going to affect about 600 coal fired power plants along with others. The numbers were picked up all over the mediasphere even though EPA declined to confirm them in advance of the big announcement scheduled for today.

Here’s a shoutout to WSJ reporter Amy Harder for the scoop (as far as we can tell, WSJ was first out of the box), and also for highlighting EPA’s use of a phrase that’s even more important than the actual numbers: carbon pollution.

EPA carbon pollution regulations

30 (cropped) by Colin Milligan.

Carbon Emissions Vs Carbon Pollution

That phrase “carbon pollution” is a clear signal that the gloves are off and the Obama Administration is gearing up for an epic public relations battle.

Until now, you’ve been hearing stuff like “greenhouse gas emissions,” “global warming emissions,” and maybe “carbon emissions,” and let’s face it, the word “emissions” is an abstraction that has so far failed to give the general public something meaty to bite on.

So, it seems that from now on you’re going to hear more about the impacts of carbon pollution.

Harder brings it up at the close of her article, citing EPA spokesperson Tom Reynolds (emphasis added):

EPA will release its proposed carbon pollution reduction rule on Monday. Until then the agency will not comment on any information that may or may not be in the proposal.

Carbon Emissions And Asthma

To make things even tastier, the Obama Administration has spent the past couple of days steering public attention away from narrowly focuing on the connection between carbon pollution and climate change, over which the Koch brothers and other fossil fuel interests have succeeded in churning up considerable misinformation.

Instead, the emphasis is on connecting carbon pollution to other forms of pollution from human activity, specifically asthma. If you’re wondering why asthma rather than, say, pollution-caused cancer, we’re guessing it’s because asthma affects more people across a broader spectrum, especially children.

In other words, the asthma connection is far more familiar ground, affecting the daily life and health of millions of American individuals and families.

So, last Friday you have a long, detailed post leading off the EPA blog advising summer travelers about scenarios like this:

Air quality in the United States has improved considerably.  But, summertime air quality can still reach the unhealthy ranges of the Air Quality Index (AQI) – even in remote locations such as our beautiful national parks. Picture this: you’re camping in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (one of my favorites). You’re ready to take your kids hiking for the day, and you see a sign announcing a park-wide ozone advisory.

One of your teenagers has asthma. What can you do?

President Obama followed up the very next morning with his weekly Saturday radio address, which as of this writing is still highlighted on the official White House website ( under the title “Reducing Carbon Pollution in Our Power Plants.”

The intro to the transcript references “carbon pollution” twice (nary a whisper about “emissions”) and the address was delivered from the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC. Here’s the lede in full (emphasis added):

Hi, everybody.  I’m here at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., visiting with some kids being treated here all the time for asthma and other breathing problems.  Often, these illnesses are aggravated by air pollution – pollution from the same sources that release carbon and contribute to climate change.  And for the sake of all our kids, we’ve got to do more to reduce it.

Kids Vs. Koch Brothers

After years of fighting the climate change denial machine on science, it looks like the Obama Administration has finally brought out the heavy guns: kids.

We’re guessing it’s only a matter of time before the anti-science lobbying organization Heartland Institute sets its sights on that argument. The group, which has ties to the Koch brothers through the conservative legislative lobbying group ALEC, gained its reputation through a long time fight to delay smoking regulations, later transferring its misinformation-based game plan to climate change denial.

However, it’s going to be a lot harder to keep stirring up doubt when millions of voters see the evidence every day in their medicine cabinets.

Carbon Pollution And Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

The fossil fuel industry has always had one thing going for it, and that is until recently there was no other option for powering the national economy, with the spotty exception of nuclear energy.


However, the old jobs-vs-environment saw is seriously out of date as renewable energy generation emerges as a mainstream source. Just yesterday we noted that US wind power, for one, is poised for domination, but don’t take our word for it. Here’s Bloomberg reporting last year on legendary investor Warren Buffet’s MidAmerican Energy Co.:

MidAmerican Energy Co., Iowa’s largest utility, plans to build as much as 1,050 megawatts of new wind power plants in the state, adding to about 2,285 megawatts of projects that it already owns and operates…

MidAmerican is the largest U.S. owner of wind generation capacity among rate-regulated utilities, according to the statement. Iowa ranks third in the U.S. for states with the most wind generating capacity, behind Texas and California, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

Translation: hundreds of jobs, jobs, jobs for the wind industry in Iowa.

All we can say is that when you’ve lost Iowa, well, you’ve lost.

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • Bob_Wallace

    We’ve got the first 10% in the bag.

  • jburt56

    That’s at least 1 TW of solar.

  • Michael Berndtson

    I’m all for this. Here’s a growly gruff rebut. The whole Kidz v. Koch(TM) thing may backfire for the democrats. All of environmental protection and pollution control is based on housekeeping (keeping it clean) and health risk (w.r.t. air, land and water versus human contact and consumption).

    The republicans have done a good job of raising a huge chunk of America’s risk tolerance. Case in point: the proliferation of gun culture. And increasing our collective cynicism of the nanny state. This is the stuff that gets spouted out of all types of media outlets, 24/7 – from crazy radio hosts to Eric Stossel on Fox.

    Tina is kind of preaching to the choir here, i.e. concerned young moms and dads and Grist readers who took one semester of environmental science for book learners in college. OK, and another complaint. Using hyper communicative smartset beautiful people humor (e.g. Tina’s and Grists) for relaying environmental information is annoying. There I said it. I’m guessing for every one person who finds it comforting, two people find it almost completely insufferable.

    Nonetheless, Obama’s plan is essential. I’m just worried about 2014 and 2016 election cycles. We’ll need at least 51 percent to keep from having all the work rolled back buy some crazed Tea Party ideologue. Whose goal is to win for the cause at all cost – the planet be damned. We’re also dealing with a lot of people who believe the rapture is coming soon.

    • Calamity_Jean

      What “hyper communicative smartset beautiful people humor” are you talking about?

      • Michael Berndtson

        I don’t know. I just made up a group. Grist, as an example, uses humor that some find entertaining. Some don’t. I’m assuming its directed towards somebody outside those already interested in environmental policy, but are too hip to the mothership to get on board. So maybe they stumble upon environmental blogs like Grist – or are linked/liked a smarmy-in-tone headline via social media. Enjoying the insufferable eye rolling tone ( a la Buzzfeed) and say, “hey these guys are cool, I want to be informed on environmental issues too.” Or not.

        Humor is catch-as-catch can and should be used sparingly by environmental blogs. Especially when the subject is as important as environmental work. Bad stuff happens. And big fines assessed.

        Here’s my premise.

        Environmental protection and remediation isn’t taken seriously outside of people of care about it. That group is getting smaller in key election states. A perfect case in point is this issue. Obama is having to implement environmental policy through executive orders. He can’t legislate environmental policy very successfully through congress. In many cases, his own party is against many environmental policy issues.

        We’re two election cycles away from having the US EPA shuttered. Who by the way have been hamstrung for the past 16 to 18 years, starting with Newt Gingrich and his contract for America, on enforcement on many already enacted legislation.

        So, we need all hands on deck. Environmental policy has to be aspirational and a serious business. This includes environmental protection, pollution control, energy efficiency and energy policy. Environmental work cannot be taken lightly – like a tangential junket one takes in life. Maybe while in college or early twenties. Most importantly, environmental work is expensive.

        Environmental and energy policy will have to get paid by financiers/banks/investors (skimming less of the top), corporations (making less profits), ratepayers (higher gas & elec. rates), energy users (higher gas prices) and taxpayers. No of those things is funny.

    • Offgridmanpolktn

      While the Bible believers may anxiously anticipate the coming of the rapture there’s nothing in their book that allows them to encourage the conditions. Which fortunately many of their leaders (the last couple of Pope’s as examples) have been pointing out that it is the job of the believers to preserve and care for what has been given to them. Fortunately even amongst the pentecostal churches there are now groups saying that we need to care for our home (earth) and reverse the effects of the damage caused by man.

      • Michael Berndtson

        I’m guessing there isn’t a consensus in many religious group. Pope John Paul II made a great quote about his flock about 20 years ago, “if it wasn’t for protestants and jews, nobody would listen to me.” I’m optimistic about some evangelicals taking earth’s stewardship on. But I’m wondering if those are the 20 to 30 (about) percent that already vote democrat. The tone coming from Washington and State capitals, whose audience (a majority of its voters), is still pretty hard-hard right and anti environmental. Many tie environmental policy into all the other bugaboos that stir up the base.

    • TinaCasey

      Michael u rock! Even if you really did just make up that “smartset beautiful people humor” thing all by yourself, you just hacked like 10 or 30 years off my realtime age (idk maybe even 40) so tx for the compliment ;D

      • Michael Berndtson

        No, u rock! All right, all right I was being old man, “get off my lawn” in the comment section. I am your biggest fan. Not in a Stephen King’s book Misery way (the crazy nurse who rescues the author).

        There are just too many shenanigans going on at the federal and state levels right now to not be worried about the future of environmental protection and energy deployment – that doesn’t emit deeply stored carbon. My state of Illinois almost did a work around with fracking regs that would have embarrassed Chicago politicians of several generations ago. This is happening in Ohio, Wisconsin and other formerly progressive states. It’s kind of freaking me out. The pro fracking coalitions of labor and business is almost uncanny. Until you realize that unions (the ones left) are basically still around simply to manage the pension funds. And those running the funds are businesses.

        I don’t know how, at all, what the best way to communicate environment and energy policy to those outside of circles concerned about that. When I was young and enthusiastic and working in the environmental business – we were told over and over that environmental work including health and safety is not funny. Basically the message was made clear that the paying customer really wasn’t happy paying for something they don’t want to do, but were told to apply pollution control or remediate a site due to legislation. Health and safety, well, never should be joked about. Except this joke: “what’s the difference between an industrial hygienist and your mother? Your mother tells you to wash your hands AFTER going to the bathroom.”

    • A Real Libertarian

      2014 is the big election, 2016’s in the bag.

      • Michael Berndtson

        You’re right, but 2016 could be 3016 given the short attention span of US politics. I have a fairly high tolerance for political stuff. As long as something gets done. As an engineer, its best to let dust settle, policy wise. But jiminy crickets, we’ve been kicking up dust and throwing sand at each other, politically speaking, for 20 years. Politics is when and where those that dabble in ideas and idea ownership (power) get together. It’s never been pretty. But lately, and given those with seemingly non negotiable ideologies, elections are becoming more important.

        And we have this big stinking albatros called climate change acceleration looming large over our heads.The market typically only reacts to situations. My biggest concern is that there is no way to mitigate climate change acceleration. Once it gets going and feedback occurs, the only hope is adaptation, i.e. lots of government money and borrowing for emergency response and moving folks away from the shoreline. Insurance companies are already freaking out. Paying out claims isn’t their thing.

  • Dimitar Mirchev

    Epic Fail!

    This is worse than business as usual. Same in EU – their 2030 target is far worse than business as usual!

    • JamesWimberley

      The best is the enemy of the good. I agree with you that the science leads to a much more ambitious target. It’s no bad thing for the White House and EPA to face loud and informed criticism from the radical side. But adoption of this regulation, based on full recognition that carbon dioxide is a pollutant, will set a process in motion that will go further and extinguish coal generation in 20 years. Its enemies understand that this is a war to the death.

    • Bob_Wallace

      “A leaked draft of the report sent to governments in December suggests that in order to keep global temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F) by the end of the century — the stated goal of international climate talks — emissions need to fall by 40-70 percent by 2050.”

      If we cut 30% by 2030 (that’s about 15 years away), then we have 20 more years to achieve the 10%-40%.

      The first steps will be the hardest. We’re going to see lots of push back. Lots of states doing nothing at first. Lots of lawsuits.

      Once we get things moving then it will be a lot easier to pick up the pace. Well before 2030 we should have affordable, decent range EVs and a good idea of the best way(s) to store grid energy. That will make the second phase of the transition much easier.

      • Dimitar Mirchev

        I agree with you. I dont agree that Obama has done and will do anything to help.

        I see reneweables and efficiency progress much faster than anyone have predicted so I expect by 2030 USA to have at least 40% CO2 reduction. EU will be even better.

        The proof is EU target 20/20/20 that will be overachieved by at least 5% It will be more like 25/25/25. And all that with an epic fail in EU ETS too. See what I mean?

        Worse than business as usual.

        • Bob_Wallace

          What has PBO done so far for energy and the climate?

          Increased gas mileage requirements significantly and extended them to pickups and SUVs.

          Increased fuel efficiency requirements for large trucks.

          Begun closing down ~200 inefficient coal plants.

          Used large parts of the stimulus package to support battery manufacturing, gas efficiency, and renewables.

          Streamlined the permitting process for wind and solar on federal lands.

          Put the US military on track to be world leaders in replacing fossil fuels.

          That’s what comes to mind at the moment.

          I get the feeling that you aren’t up to speed in terms of what both PBO and the EU have accomplished. BAU is reducing fossil fuel use and dropping CO2 emissions.

          • Dimitar Mirchev

            I’m just not sure that Obama can take full credit for that.

            Yes the streamlined permitting and stuff is awesome however some of the things were already happening.

            I probably expected Obama administration to be a little more ahead of the curve. As I see it most of the time it is behind the curve.

            You know how the greenies are – we are never happy with the progress!! 🙂

          • Bob_Wallace

            If you’re not sure that PBO owns those accomplishments then you should do some research and find out for yourself.

            You’d find things like car mileage requirements were set at 27.5 miles in 1990 and hadn’t been raised since. See if you can find any information about raises “already happening” when Obama came into office.

            Perfection is not achieved in one single step, but through a series of small stops and starts.

            If you can’t recognize and appreciate progress then you are a roadblock to progress.

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