Civil rights and environmental groups are lauding the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent release of proposed carbon pollution standards for new power plants.

The new rules are the first milestone in a climate change package announced by President Obama in June. According to the administration, carbon is the largest driver of climate change, and power plants are the major source, accounting for roughly one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions. The White House’s Climate Action Plan aims to reduce domestic carbon dioxide emissions by 17 percent between 2005 and 2020.

“The EPA’s proposed carbon pollution protections show that President Obama is serious about fighting climate disruption,” the Sierra Club’s Chris Hill, a campaign and policy representative for Maryland Beyond Coal, said in a statement.

“Until now, there have been no national standards for the amount of carbon pollution power plants can dump into our air,” she said. “Big polluters have been getting a free ride for decades, while Americans foot the bill in the form of asthma attacks, respiratory illness, floods, wildfires, and superstorms like Hurricane Sandy.”

The proposed carbon pollution standards encourage electricity companies to invest in and use leaner energy technologies, such as efficient natural gas, advanced coal technology, nuclear power, and renewable energy like wind and solar. Under the proposal, new large natural gas-fired turbines would need to meet a limit of 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour, while new small natural gas-fired turbines would need to meet a limit of 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour. New coal-fired units would need to meet a limit of 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour.

“Climate change is one of the most significant public health challenges of our time. By taking commonsense action to limit carbon pollution from new power plants, we can slow the effects of climate change and fulfill our obligation to ensure a safe and healthy environment for our children,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a statement. “These standards will also spark the innovation we need to build the next generation of power plants, helping grow a more sustainable clean energy economy.”

Environmental justice and civil rights activists have long argued that pollution and climate change disproportionately impact people of color. Many industries are located near minority neighborhoods and minority children overwhelmingly suffer from asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

“This is another major step forward to protect future generations from deadly pollution, has the most harmful effect on low-income communities and communities of color,” Jacqueline Patterson, director of the NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Program, said in a statement.

“We will continue to support these sensible standards in the face of industry opposition until a strong rule is finalized,” she added. “We will also stand by the administration as they enact other long-overdue measures to mitigate climate change, which causes disproportionate devastation in so many different ways. The lives of our children depend on it.”


Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO