This week the Obama Administration made progress toward cleaning up the air we breathe under the Clean Air Act. On Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed new limits for carbon pollution from new power plants. Though the ruling will not impact power plants currently dirtying our air, it will ensure that plants built in the future will use the latest technology to reduce carbon emissions and make our air more breathable for generations to come.
Before this week’s announcement there were no limits to the amount of carbon pollution that could be released from power plant smokestacks. In 2007, the Supreme Court affirmed that the EPA had the authority to limit carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act. Beginning in 2009, the Obama Administration began an extensive public process to develop the carbon pollution standard outlined this week. The new standard will require new power plants to emit approximately 60 percent less carbon pollution than the average coal-fired power plant. According to the National Wildlife Federation, a reduction of this size will improve levels of asthma-inducing smog.
Scientific evidence clearly shows the negative impact of greenhouse gases like those emitted from coal-burning power plants. Not only do power plants emit harmful toxins that threaten the health of current and future generations, but increasing the amounts of carbon in the atmosphere is warming the planet and will have disastrous long-term impacts on our economy and global stability. Locally, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, which has an estimated annual economic value of over $1 trillion, has been harmed by both air and water pollution alike. Immediate actions the EPA can take to preserve this watershed will help our economy in the decades to come.
While the proposed standard is a good step towards reducing carbon entering our air in the future, there are many serious challenges we face today. Across the country, 154 million people already experience air pollution levels that are too dangerous. Right here in Northern Virginia, we have had our own experiences with the threats caused by coal-fired power plants. The GenOn Power Plant along the Potomac River had been in severe violation of air quality standards for sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxide (NOx), and particulate matter. Nearby residents complained of poor air quality surrounding the plant, in large part due to the short smokestacks that ejected the hazardous toxins directly into the living rooms of high-rise apartment buildings. Through citizen involvement and committed local officials, the Potomac River Generating Station announced last year that by October 2012 the plant and its 1949 coal-fired boilers will finally be shuttered.
Unfortunately while Northern Virginia remains an example of commitment to a better, cleaner environment, these same priorities are not shared by all in Congress. Republicans in the House of Representatives have introduced legislation that attempt to roll back the clock, weakening current Clean Air standards and pretending the climate is not changing. Fortunately legislation like this is dead on arrival in the Senate and will not be signed into law by President Obama.
Moving forward, the EPA will undertake a public review and hearing process to examine their proposed carbon emission reductions before determining a final regulation. I applaud the EPA for its commitment to tackle head-on one of the key causes of global warming and will keep working to ensure the EPA continues to protect the air we breathe for future generations.
Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.