The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed controls on carbon emissions from new power plants aimed at combating climate change and improving public health.
Friday's proposal is a first step toward implementing broader power plant pollution controls that are a big part of President Barack Obama's "Climate Action Plan." Emission standards for existing power plants are scheduled to be proposed in June 2014.
"Climate change is one of the most significant public health challenges of our time," EPA administrator Gina McCarthy said. "By taking common-sense 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."
Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., she said the standards also will spark innovation needed to build the next generation of power plants and lead to a "more sustainable, clean-energy economy."
According to the EPA release, new large natural gas-fired turbines would have to meet emissions limits of 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour, while smaller gas turbines would have a slightly higher emissions standard of 1,100 pounds per megawatt-hour. New coal-fired power plants would also need to meet the 1,100 pounds per megawatt-hour for carbon dioxide emissions.
Current, advanced process coal-burning power plants emit about 1,800 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour, according to industry sources.
The proposed new carbon standards -- the first for the electric power sector, which emits 33 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. and 60 percent of stationary source greenhouse gas emissions -- elicited immediate and, for the most part, highly polarized reactions from a host of industrial, environmental and health organizations and politicians.
Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, was much more definitive in stating his opposition to the proposed rule, saying in a prepared statement that it proves the administration wants to eliminate coal-burning power plants.
"I will keep fighting this silly science to protect the families who make a living in coal and work at the factories across southwestern Pennsylvania that depend on affordable energy," he said.
Freshman Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-McCandless, termed the proposal a "new salvo in the war on coal."
But Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said that while he hasn't had a chance to examine the carbon rule proposal in detail, he believes "there's a way to strike that balance without costing Pennsylvania jobs."
"We have an obligation to get that balance right, I think," he said.
Consol Energy spokeswoman Lynn Seay issued a statement calling the proposed standards "punitive," and predicting they would, if adopted, "result in fewer choices to fuel our country."
"Poll after poll shows that the public prioritizes jobs, the economy and skyrocketing debt as the defining issues of our time," Ms. Seay wrote, "yet the administration continues to move in a direction that will have no measurable impact on the stated goal of reductions in global CO2 concentrations and will only exacerbate the issues where Americans are demanding leadership by putting our most abundant and affordable domestic resource on the sidelines."
The Cecil-based company extracts coal and natural gas in Pennsylvania, and although it has moved strongly to develop Marcellus Shale gas holdings, 80 percent of its business remains on the coal side, Ms. Seay said.
The American Lung Association, which issued a statement strongly supporting the proposed standards, said carbon pollution from power plants contributes to warmer temperatures that are likely to increase ozone and smog, leading to serious health effects, including asthma and heart attacks, stroke and premature death.
"If we want a safer climate and future for our kids, we can't keep letting dirty power plants pollute," said Margie Alt, executive director of Environment America. "President Obama has put his foot down in the fight against global warming and effectively said: 'No new dirty power plants.' "
Michael Brune, Sierra Club executive director, said the standards would help reduce unhealthy pollutants and modernize the nation's power supply while creating jobs and helping to mitigate climate change.
"The EPA's proposed carbon pollution protections today show that President Obama is serious about fighting climate disruption," Mr. Brune said. "The Sierra Club and our 2.1 million members and supporters applaud President Obama and the EPA for holding the industries that create the lion's share of the nation's carbon emissions accountable for their pollution."
Also lining up in support of the standards were the American Public Health Association, Environmental Defense Fund, World Resources Institute, American Thoracic Society, the Alliance for Industrial Efficiency and BlueGreen Alliance, a national partnership of labor unions and environmental organizations.
The American Chemistry Council said in its statement that it "supports efforts to improve our environment while growing our economy," adding that policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions "must be coupled with a comprehensive energy strategy that promotes diversity, efficiency, affordability and reliability so that American manufacturers can expand, innovate and create jobs."
The EPA received more than 2.5 million public comments as it prepared to issue its proposed standards, and publication of the proposed standards in the Federal Register will open a 60-day public comment period. The agency will also schedule a public hearing within that time frame.
Don Hopey: email@example.com or 412-263-1983. The Associated Press and the New York Times contributed to this report.