National Geographic News
In this March 8, 2014 file photo steam from the Jeffrey Energy Center coal-fired power plant is silhouetted against the setting sun near St. Marys, Kan.

The stacks of the coal-fired Jeffrey Energy Center, the largest power plant in Kansas. Coal plants will face pressure to upgrade equipment or shut down as the U.S. aims to tighten emissions standards.


Christina Nunez

National Geographic

Published June 1, 2014

The Obama administration on Monday will propose new environmental rules that seek to cut emissions from U.S. power plants by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, according to news reports on Sunday.

Aiming to bypass a divided Congress by issuing regulation through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the anticipated Monday announcement is U.S. President Barack Obama's boldest action yet to address climate change.

If successful, the proposal would lead to the first-ever rules aimed at carbon emissions from existing power plants.

States would have broad latitude in terms of how to meet a carbon standard, according to The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the preview of the rule on Sunday.

Options could include joining or starting a cap and trade program, which sets limits on emissions and then allows for the purchase and sale of pollution permits; boosting the share of renewable energy in electricity generation; and tightening efficiency standards.

The proposed rules come nearly a month after a sweeping national climate assessment that catalogued a range of impacts already occurring as a result of climate change.

Reducing greenhouse gases is a key way to address climate change, but it also has implications for public health, a point Obama stressed in his weekly address Saturday promoting the pending standard. (See related story: "One Key Question on Obama's Push Against Climate Change: Will It Matter?")

"In America, we don't have to choose between the health of our economy and the health of our children," the president said, anticipating critics from the coal industry and elsewhere who have said that tightening power plant standards would kill jobs and hurt the economy. (See related story: "Ahead of Proposed U.S. Power Plant Rules, the Spin Scramble Begins.")

"As President, and as a parent, I refuse to condemn our children to a planet that's beyond fixing," Obama said, acknowledging "tough choices" on the way to a cleaner economy. "But a low-carbon, clean energy economy can be an engine of growth for decades to come.  America will build that engine."  (See related story: "Federal Climate Change Report Highlights Risks for Americans.")

The 30 percent target Monday is slightly higher than earlier reports that predicted Obama would seek a 25 percent overall cut in emissions from the nation's existing power plants, which are responsible for about 40 percent of the carbon pollution.

But in setting the baseline year at 2005, the Obama administration allows states to count emissions reductions that have already been happening thanks in part to a nationwide shift to cleaner-burning natural gas.

The 30-percent target is also for 2030, rather than 2020, as some had predicted, allowing more time for the reduction.

Overall, greenhouse gas emissions in the United States already dropped nearly 12 percent between 2005 and 2012, and some states have renewable energy targets and efficiency-boosting measures in place that put them in a good position to meet the EPA's target.

In an analysis last week of ten states, including coal-reliant Pennsylvania and Ohio, the environmental research organization World Resources Institute (WRI) predicted that all those states would be able to achieve "moderate to ambitious" reductions in their emissions.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy is expected to announce more details about the proposed rules Monday. After that, the agency will consider public comment and work to finalize the rule within a one-year period. Obama has asked the EPA to finalize the rule by June 2015, and states would have a year from that point to create and submit their implementation plans.

"This momentous development raises the bar for controlling carbon emissions in the United States," World Resources Institute president Andrew Steer said in a statement released Sunday. "It's the most important action available to cut US emissions—and the Obama administration has seized the opportunity." (Take the quiz: "What You Don't Know About Climate Change Science.")

This story is part of a special series that explores energy issues. For more, visit The Great Energy Challenge.

jesny cheng
jesny cheng

i think everyone should do his best to reduce the waste of the energy,manbe that's the best way to reduce the carbon emission!

Brian Loring
Brian Loring

Fuel-less Electric Generator

The so called free energy devices are impossible to  create, they’re impossible to make. Well let me say this, I have designed it. By using a sealed system, I have created a fuel less way to drive the turbines used to generate electricity or run any other rotary drive device. Without the use of any consumable fuel or radioactive materials. Without going deeper into details. This is about all I can say with out giving away how this device works, yes it is that simple. So simple the main scientific brains have yet to see the idea. I will leave you with this thought; “Yes heat equals energy, but at what thermal range? What is cold? What is hot”. It is energy, just what level up or down the thermal scale. Heat is relative, if you lived at -200 degrees below zero, -100 degrees below zero is “hot”.

By not needing giant cooling towers and water sources, they can be built in more obscure locations. Not to mention the carbon foot print it self is a 10th of the current facilities. The most time consuming process will be removing the current boilers and cooling system and prepare the site for the new system. New turbines and my system is all that is need to re-outfit and go back on line.

The rampant blind use of consumable fuels, i.e.; any form of fossil fuel, nuclear is counter productive! We can even remove the damns on many of our rivers, returning them to natural flows again, reclaiming aquatic habitat. The number of advantages that are simple side affects of the use of it in place of all these current forms used today, are widespread and environmentally friendly. This same fact is why the coal and petroleum companies can’t let it happen or they go out of business. On the other hand, the electric companies would no longer have to pay for fuels. There profits will sky rocket. What a “catch 22", one entity for and one against!! Both to big for us to fight with!!!

Rodolfo Alonzo
Rodolfo Alonzo

I come from a place where anything President Obama wants......forget about it. Jim Crow is holding on best he can. The only thing keeps us in the Dark Ages is young people do not vote. Just old folks. The plan he would like to implement has the usual 4 States already against it. When you think about looking out for Mother Nature can only be beneficial to all. So why all the anger. Ya he has pigment. So do I. It is really no big thing unless of course if you don't. Instead of pointing fingers and ranting and raving. As Humans maybe we should get our back into it and try and improve Mother Nature. I volunteered to clean up. And spent 2 hours picking up cigarette butts. My back hurt and I have never smoked a cigarette. See I got involved, got dirty and a sore back, picking up butts. The place looked good afterwards. Come on come on let's work together. No more na na boo boo.

Hector Lugo
Hector Lugo

Cue conservative backlash and faux outrage!

Phillip Noe
Phillip Noe

Join the efforts to get our members of Congress to pass meaningful emission-reducing laws.  The EPA and Obama are making progress but climate change deniers in Congress are still playing obstructionist games.


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