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EPA Proposes Carbon Emissions Standard

June 2014

This week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed carbon pollution emission standards for existing power plants. The standards create state-specific goals that power plants and state regulators can meet in a number of ways including: 1) increasing the efficiency of existing power plants, 2) switching to natural gas fired power plants, 3) increasing alternative energy sources, 4) expanding energy savings programs or any combination of those options.

Despite reports in the press, EPA is not using 2005 as a base year for measuring carbon reductions. Instead, EPA has established a pollution-to-power ratio goal for the future carbon intensity of covered existing fossil-fuel-fired power plants in a given state. States can meet their goal using any measures that make sense to them—they do not have to use all the measures EPA identified, and they can use other approaches that will work to bring down that carbon intensity rate. EPA estimates that when fully implemented in 2030, the rule will result in a 30% reduction in carbon emissions from power plants.

The American Thoracic Society (ATS) is pleased that the Environmental Protection Agency is taking action to address carbon pollution.  The proposed rules released today by the EPA to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants are an important next step in the Administration's efforts to address global climate change and improve air quality. "As a pediatric pulmonologist who cares for children with severe health problems, we are beginning to recognize the health effects of global warming in our practices," said ATS President Tom Ferkol, MD, who is professor of pediatrics, cell biology, and physiology and director of the multidisciplinary Division of Pediatric Allergy, Immunology, and Pulmonary Medicine at the Washington University School of Medicine. "The ATS strongly supports the efforts of President Obama and the EPA to reduce the harmful emissions of greenhouse gasses from power plants. Today's rules are a step in the right direction toward mitigating climate change.

"What often gets lost in the discussion is that reducing carbon emissions also decreases other noxious pollutants like mercury, ozone and particulate matter," noted Ferkol. Mercury, ozone and particular matter are known pollutants that cause neurological damage, respiratory and cardiovascular disease. "By reducing carbon pollution today, our children will enjoy the benefits of cleaner air while we address a major cause of global warming."

Last Reviewed: October 2017