Leaders from across the nation have welcomed the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed limits on carbon pollution from power plants. It’s been inspiring to see the outpouring of support from lawmakers, public health experts, more than 170 American business executives, and even some forward-thinking utilities. They all recognize that carbon limits will help protect our communities from the worst impacts of climate change.
One misconception, however, has made its way into some media coverage warrants clarification: the impact these standards will on natural gas use in our country.
It seems that some are operating under a false assumption that EPA’s plan to reduce carbon pollution from our nation’s power plants necessarily will mean increased production and consumption of natural gas, particularly as coal use decreases. But make no mistake— these standards are not a green light for increasing gas use in the power sector.
To the contrary, the standards can and should help reduce our country’s dependence on all fossil fuels. In fact, according to EPA’s own initial proposal—which uses conservative assumptions about what efficiency and renewables can do—gas use in the power sector would be 5 percent less in 2030 with the standards than without them.
That’s because carbon pollution standards will create powerful new incentives for states and power companies to comply with the limits by investing in wind, solar and energy efficiency, instead of gas. Compared to today's market structure this actually improves the financial value of these investments relative to natural gas. This is the single most important step the Obama administration could have taken to help reduce our dependence on fossil fuel in the power sector.
The EPA’s proposed carbon pollution standards are just the start of the fight. Over the next year, before EPA sets the final standards, we will be working to strengthen the agency’s conservative assumptions on the carbon reductions achievable through energy efficiency and renewable energy sources. A greater reliance on efficiency and renewables will further reduce projected reliance on both coal and gas. We will also work closely with states and utilities to ensure their implementation plans to meet the carbon pollution standards maximize investment in efficiency and renewables, and do not increase reliance on natural gas.
At the same time, of course, we will continue working to reduce leakage of methane—another potent climate change pollutant—from the natural gas production and delivery system, to cut carbon pollution from other sources, and to protect Americans nationwide from other risks associated with all forms of fossil fuel development.
We can expect that the fossil fuel industry and owners of dirty power plants will not give up easily. But the writing is on the wall. It’s time to end our nation’s untenable dependence on fossil fuels, and the unrestricted dumping of pollution into the atmosphere. Our children’s health and future depend on it.