New EPA Rule Is First Ever To Limit Carbon Emissions From New Power Plants

By Terrell Johnson
Published: January 10, 2014

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Smokestacks at American Electric Power's Mountaineer coal power plant in New Haven, W.V., photographed in October 2009.

In a move that advances one of the key goals President Obama outlined in his Climate Action Plan last June, the Environmental Protection Agency published a new rule this week with the first-ever federal limits on carbon emissions from newly constructed power plants.

The EPA took four months to publish the rule in the Federal Register after EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy announced it in a speech last September. The rule sets sets separate standards for coal-fired and natural-gas-fired electricity generating plants.

Once in place, the rule will limit all future coal plants to 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions for each megawatt hour of electricity they generate. Today's coal-fired power plants pump an average of about 1,700 pounds of carbon dioxide into the air per megawatt hour.

Natural gas plants will be limited to 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per megawatt hour for larger units (plants that generate 100 megawatts of energy) and 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour for smaller plants.

Most coal plants won't meet the new standard without implementing cutting-edge technologies that capture and store their carbon emissions, which has stoked industry fears that these new regulations will effectively mean no new coal plants will ever be built in the United States.

U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), who represents one of the nation's biggest coal-producing states, sharply criticized the EPA's action yesterday on Twitter:


The electricity industry is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., and coal accounts for about 80 percent of its CO2 emissions each year.

But the coal industry also is one of the most important to the economies of states like Montana and Wyoming, which are expected to expand production this year after two years of declines.

In her speech last September (which you can watch in the video below), McCarthy answered critics by pointing to the car industry. "Those standards did not cripple the auto industry," she said. "They made it stronger and more competitive."


Currently no power plants in the U.S. use the technologies McCarthy refers to in the speech, known as carbon capture and storage (or carbon dioxide capture and sequestration), though a massive project to build a plant equipped with them is underway in Kemper County, Miss.

Projects to build plants with the technology also are in progress in Canada's Saskatchewan province, where an older coal plant is being retrofitted. The Texas Clean Energy Project is planned near Odessa, Texas, while Hydrogen Energy California will both use hydrogen to generate electricity and store carbon to enable oil recovery in Kern County, Calif.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Carbon Capture and Sequestration Technologies project has compiled a database of all the CCS projects currently planned or already being built around the world, which you can see by clicking the icons in this Google map:

Google Maps JavaScript API Example



Just because the rule has been published in the Federal Register doesn't mean that it's yet in effect, however. The public has 60 days to comment on the rule – at the EPA website set up to receive input on the new carbon pollution standards, or at the public hearing scheduled for Jan. 28 in Washington, D.C.

Read the full text of the new EPA rule on carbon emissions at the Federal Register, or provide your own comment at


MORE: The Price of Coal

What Price Coal?

What Price Coal?

Climate activists with protest banners wave polish flags on the rooftop of the Economy Ministry in Warsaw, Poland, on Nov. 18, 2013. They went up the rooftop to protest a coal conference opening to coincide with U.N. talks on preventing global warming, that is also the result of greenhouse gases coming from burning coal. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

  • What Price Coal?
  • Open Pit Mining
  • Coal Is Worldwide
  • Coal Mining Nearly Doubles
  • Mountaintop Mining
  • Mining Dangers
  • Coal Miners

Featured Blogs

Invest 94L Off the Coast of Africa May Slowly Develop

By Dr. Jeff Masters
July 29, 2015

The first African tropical wave worthy of being classified by NHC as an area of interest (an "Invest") has emerged from the coast of Africa, and lies a few hundred miles southeast of the Cape Verde Islands. Invest 94L has conditions that favor some slow development over the next few days.

Another Dry California Precipitation Season Draws to a Close

By Christopher C. Burt
June 30, 2015

The 2014-2015 precipitation season ended today (June 30th) and the drought continues unabated. Although the precipitation totals for the July 1-June 30 (2014-2015) period do not appear to be all that bad (generally 60-85% of average) this does not tell the whole story. A very wet December saved what otherwise would have been a catastrophically dry year. In fact, the past six months (since January 1st) have been one of the driest such periods on record for many locations, including San Francisco. Here are some details about the past rainy season and the current drought.

PWS Service Interruption Update

By Shaun Tanner
June 16, 2015

The development team here at Weather Underground has been hard at work producing a new homepage! Please take a look at the sneak peek and tell us what you think!

Meteorological images of the year - 2014

By Stu Ostro
December 30, 2014

My 9th annual edition.

2013-14 - An Interesting Winter From A to Z

By Tom Niziol
May 15, 2014

It was a very interesting winter across a good part of the nation from the Rockies through the Plains to the Northeast. Let's break down the most significant winter storms on a month by month basis.

What the 5th IPCC Assessment Doesn't Include

By Angela Fritz
September 27, 2013

Melting permafrost has the potential to release an additional 1.5 trillion tons of carbon into the atmosphere, and could increase our global average temperature by 1.5°F in addition to our day-to-day human emissions. However, this effect is not included in the IPCC report issued Friday morning, which means the estimates of how Earth's climate will change are likely on the conservative side.