Leading with a pitch on health and closing with a pitch on economic savings, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy made the long-anticipated Obama administration announcement Friday on carbon pollution limits for new power plants.
Opponents of carbon limits – which will be vastly more costly for coal plants than other facilities – are expected to mount legal challenges to the new rule.
"New power plants, both natural gas and coal-fired, can minimize their carbon emissions by taking advantage of available, modern technology," McCarthy said during a speech at the National Press Club. "We all know this is not just about melting glaciers; climate change caused by carbon pollution is one of the most significant public health threats of our time."
About one in 10 children in the Unites States suffers from asthma, she added.
McCarthy said the new standards are the first uniform national limits on carbon pollution from new plants but do not apply to current plants. There will be a 60-day comment period before the rules are finalized and they are expected to take effect - pending legal action - in fall 2014.
New large natural gas power plants would need to meet a limit of 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour while new smaller natural gas plants would be limited to 1,100 pounds, according to the new rule. New coal plants would be limited to 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour.
"Coal plants could choose to also have some additional flexibility if they want to average their emissions over multiple years by meeting a somewhat tighter limit," McCarthy said.
The new rule updated a previously announced plan for capping carbon emissions from new plants, which the Obama administration made in April 2012 and has since responded to more than two million public comments.
President Barack Obama has long made climate change a part of his agenda, from his initial presidential candidacy in 2008 to his latest inaugural address following his re-election in 2012. The Democratically controlled House also voted on climate change legislation in 2009 that would have taxed carbon emissions as a means of financially incentivizing curbing pollution, but the measure ultimately failed.
Republicans and Democrats from coal-producing states have long depicted Obama as a villain waging a 'war on coal,' but McCarthy says the new proposal simply reflects updated technology that's available and nudges industry to take advantage of it.
"When this rule goes out it sends a signal to the industry and the market … it really has an impact," she said. "It's just about sending a signal to the industry about what the new technologies are and how we expect them to operate under the Clean Air Act."
The costs of ignoring the weather and health risks associated with climate change are too great, McCarthy said, not to mention the potential savings that can be achieved by reducing carbon emissions.
"Fighting climate change just makes good business sense," she said. "The president has pointed out more than 500 businesses, including GM and Nike, called acting on climate change 'one of the great economic opportunities of the 21st century.'"