Cleaner Power for Americans: Putting People First, Not Coal Companies

On Monday President Obama announced EPA's new safeguards to clean up America's power plants, putting an end to the era of unlimited coal plant pollution. Within hours, the air was filled with complaints that the standard is too tough on states where coal dominates the power market. What's the story?

The truth is the power plant standard treats every state the same, applying the same performance levels for similar power plant types, regardless of where they are located. The best news is we can achieve these targets simply by accelerating the move to replace dirty coal power with much cleaner, affordable and reliable energy sources.

You wouldn't know it from the howls of dirty fuel lobbyists but the EPA rule applies the same emission rate to every coal plant in every state. And the same is true for every natural gas power plant. The rule is based on a common sense principle that the American public has always demanded: no special treatment based on political favoritism. The same types of power plants should be held to the same performance, regardless of the state where they are located. And that is the approach EPA has taken, by setting state targets based on applying these uniform rates to the coal and gas power plants in each state. States can adjust these rates up or down for individual power plants as long as the total cleanup is equal to what would be achieved with the uniform rates. You can find the details here.

Big Coal lobbyists and some politicians complain that the EPA targets require a greater percentage reduction from coal-heavy states than cleaner states face. But that is only because those states have a lot of heavily polluting coal plants, not because the coal plants in those states are being held to a tougher standard than any other state.

The important question is whether the EPA cleanup standards are achievable, even in coal-heavy states. And they are. The standards for all states are based on the reality that America has huge amounts of cleaner power potential -- especially from wind and solar -- that has only begun to be tapped. These energy sources, combined with less energy waste will allow American families to actually lower their electric bills under the plan.

Americans do not yearn for electricity made from coal. They want electricity service that is affordable, reliable and does not produce dangerous air pollution that harms their family. That is why wind and solar power have been growing so rapidly and there is much, much more where that came from. In fact, EPA finds that during the fifteen-year cleanup program, new renewable energy supplies from wind and solar can provide close to four times more electricity than they do today.

EPA's rule allows power companies in every state to comply by taking advantage of this growing supply of clean energy resources from broad regions of the country. These clean energy options won't cost customers any more in coal-heavy states than they cost in the many states that are already building up reliance on these cleaner sources of electricity.

The truth is that the new EPA standards will save customers on their electric bills while making our air cleaner and safer. Thanks to expected investments in ways to cut wasted electricity--more efficient lighting, cooling, and heating, for example--, households will save at least $85 on their annual electric bills by 2030 for total customer savings of $155 billion from 2020-2030. And EPA estimates climate and health benefits of $34 billion to $54 billion in 2030, far exceeding the $8.4 billion cost of the plan.

Bottom line: EPA's approach treats all coal plants the same, no matter where they are located. Coal barons attack this approach because it puts an end to the pollution havens they have enjoyed for a century. But the rest of us put our families first and we will work tirelessly to help deliver the benefits the new EPA standards will provide us.

NRDC has a lot more information on the Clean Power Plan here, including our detailed resource book entitled "Clean Power: The Case for Carbon Pollution Limits."

About the Authors

David Hawkins

Director, Climate program

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