EPA to establish new greenhouse gas rules

The Department of Water and Power San Fernando Valley Generating Station

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Kai Ryssdal: Now that the mad rush of the lame duck session and the rest of the 111th Congress is behind us, a moment to consider what didn't get done in Washington this year. A federal budget, for one. Immigration reform. Also a long-promised climate change bill.

Today the Environmental Protection Agency stepped in where Congress feared to tread. The EPA said it's going to start coming out with new rules to regulate greenhouse gas emissions next year, starting off with power plants and refineries.

From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Scott Tong reports.


Scott Tong: Greenhouse gas rules were just a matter of legal time, says Franz Litz at the World Resources Institute.

Franz Litz: When the Supreme Court decided that greenhouse gases are a pollutant back in 2007, they essentially set this cart in motion.

Now come the details, as in which sectors to regulate first. Here's the EPA's Gina McCarthy in a conference call this morning.

Gina McCarthy: In refineries and power plants, we have large amounts of emissions. We have relatively few sources to regulate.

She said by the end of 2011, the agency will develop standards for emissions -- based on what's achievable for the industry. As of today, there are no specifics on what achievable means. But in any event, Ethan Zindler at Bloomberg New Energy Finance assumes the oldest, dirtiest coal plants aren't likely to pass muster.

Ethan Zindler: There clearly are aging plants that are coming to the end of their useful life. These regulations could hasten their fate into history.

Some coal plants may die, others may switch to another fuel. As in natural gas, the new, low-cost kid on the block, and gas emits half the carbon of coal.

Zindler: There's a lot of coal to natural gas switching taking place. Frankly, with or without the EPA.

One industry estimate suggests 16 percent of coal plants will close in the next few years. Zindler says to some, a transition away from coal is no surprise. In fact, some planned for it. More than 30 states passed rules forcing utilities to buy renewable energy. And some utilities invested in cleaner energy on their own.

In Washington, I'm Scott Tong for Marketplace.

About the author

Scott Tong is a correspondent for Marketplace’s sustainability desk, with a focus on energy, environment, resources, climate, supply chain and the global economy.

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