Carbon Dioxide Emission- A major cause of air pollution
Carbon dioxide emissions are a major cause of air pollution. Reuters

In a landmark proposal to curb carbon pollution, President Barack Obama’s administration on Friday proposed setting stringent limits on carbon emissions from new U.S. power plants, despite opposition from the coal industry and Republican lawmakers.

The first-ever attempt by the federal government to impose limits on carbon emissions is based on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA’s, guidelines, which the coal industry says would render new coal plants uneconomical, and which promote carbon-capture technology that is unproven in its effectiveness.

“The EPA’s new source performance standard is direct evidence that this Administration is trying to hold the coal industry to impossible standards,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said in a statement issued in response to the proposal.

“Never before has the federal government forced an industry to do something that is technologically impossible. Forcing coal to meet nearly the same emissions standards as gas when experts know that the required technology is not operational on a commercial scale makes absolutely no sense and will have devastating impacts to the coal industry and our economy,” Manchin said.

The proposal requires new large natural gas-fired turbines to limit emissions to 1,000 pounds of CO2 a megawatt-hour, while new small natural gas-fired turbines would need to meet a limit of 1,100 pounds of CO2 a megawatt-hour.

The limit for new coal-fired units is set at 1,100 pounds of CO2 a megawatt-hour, in addition to an option of a slightly tighter limit if the plants choose to average emissions over several years, to achieve more operational flexibility.

“Climate change is one of the most significant public health challenges of our time," EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a statement. "By taking commonsense action to limit carbon pollution from new power plants, we can slow the effects of climate change and fulfill our obligation to ensure a safe and healthy environment for our children.”

The new rules are a revised version of an older set of rules proposed by the EPA to curb carbon emissions, and they mark the first measure put into effect from the Obama administration’s climate action plan, which was outlined on June 25.

The new proposal would require any new coal plant in the U.S. to install technology to capture its carbon emissions, but the reliability of the technology is widely disputed and is not yet operational on an industrial scale -- an issue that could pose legal challenges to the EPA.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce denounced the proposal by claiming the EPA is moving ahead “with a strategy that will write off our huge, secure, affordable coal resources by essentially outlawing the construction of new coal plants.”

“They have released yet another major regulation that will hamper economic growth and job creation, and could lead to higher energy costs for American families and businesses,” the Chamber Executive Vice President for Government Affairs Bruce Josten, said in a statement. “Furthermore, we continue to believe that the Clean Air Act is not the appropriate vehicle to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.”

The EPA will also issue a proposal to tackle carbon emissions from existing power plants by June 2014.