On Tuesday the Obama administration released its much anticipated, first-of-a-kind federal standards for greenhouse gas emissions in the country. The fanfare was mixed among both environmentalists and the fossil fuel industry.
Photo by Tim Hurst
The rule appears stiff, but only for those who plan on building new coal-fired power plants in the United States. In all, 15 proposed coal plants in 10 states could be impacted, unless these plants break ground this year, in which case they’ll be exempt entirely. And by the way, no new plant construction has broken ground in three long years. Additionally — and unfortunately — for the most polluting coal plants the Obama greenhouse rule will be absolutely nothing.
Old plants, many over 50 years in age, will be grandfathered in under the Obama plan. These heavy poluters account for a whopping 40 percent of all carbon emissions in the US, yet will not be required to curb their emissions at all.
That’s not a victory in the least for the environment. It’s simply a way for the Obama administration to appear tough on climate change while still pandering to the coal industry.
But while old coal plants received a generous pass from Obama, the natural gassers will likely prove the biggest winner with the new proposal. According to the proposed regulations, any new power plant will have to restrict their emissions to 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour of electricity produced. No commercially viable coal plant can currently meet these criteria (because we still don’t have cost effective carbon capture and storage technology), but natural gas plants can and already do.
What this means is quite simple: expect an even larger increase in fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, in the upcoming years as natural gas will continue to be the fossil fuel of choice for investors and energy executives. Obama touted fracking’s potential in his State of the Union last January and seems to be standing by his word with his proposed greenhouse rules, despite natural gas’ well-documented impacts on human and environmental health.
In a nutshell, Obama’s new rules are lukewarm at best and a big ol’ gift for the frackers out there.
Joshua Frank is an environmental journalist and researcher for CoalSwarm, a project of the Earth Island Institute. His work appears regularly in Alternet, truthout and other independent independent news sites. He can be found on the web at GreenMuckraker.com.
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