SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy

Carbon Pollution & the Clean Air Act


Our nation’s energy sector generates one third of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, and carbon dioxide accounts for about 84% of U.S. greenhouse gases (GHGs), making it the nation’s largest contributor to climate change. The Southeast disproportionately contributes to national carbon pollution levels due to its abundance of coal-fired power plants. In 2012, over 366 million tons of carbon dioxide were emitted from roughly 270 coal units at 82 coal-fired power plants across the eight states in the Southeast.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in accordance with President Obama’s Climate Action Plan (CAP), is taking steps to help slow the pace of climate change by placing limits on GHG pollution from several different source categories – including the energy sector. In the CAP, President Obama instructed EPA to issue new regulations under the Clean Air Act that will establish performance standards for new and existing sources of carbon pollution in the energy sector. We are hopeful that these new regulations limiting dangerous carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants will be effective in significantly reducing the Southeast’s contribution to climate change.


Existing Source Regulation: In a June 2013 memo to EPA, President Obama directed EPA to issue proposed carbon pollution standards for existing power plants by June 1, 2014 and to issue a final standard by June 1, 2015. On June 2, 2014, EPA released the Clean Power Plan – the first-ever proposed carbon pollution standards for existing fossil fuel power plants. EPA’s Clean Power Plan is a critical piece of the CAP’s multi-faceted approach to reduce carbon pollution that causes climate change and threatens public health. The proposed standards call for reductions in carbon emission from the power sector by 30 percent nationwide below 2005 levels by the year 2030. The proposal will also cut pollution that leads to soot and smog by over 25 percent in 2030. The Southeast is especially poised to reap significant benefits from the Clean Power Plan due to our high reliance on coal.

New Source Regulation: On September 20, 2013, EPA announced a new proposed rule that will limit carbon emissions from new sources and will have a significant impact on any new coal plants. This 2013 rule replaces a March 2012 EPA proposed rule. The newer version of the proposed rule aims to restrict the amount of GHG emissions allowed from new coal plants to 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) per megawatt hour (MWh); allowing for 100 more pounds of CO2 per MWh than the March 2012 proposed rule. As a reference point, the average coal plant today releases 1,800 pounds of CO2 per MWh according to EPA. This rule is particularly relevant to a proposed new coal plant project in Georgia – learn more about that project here.

How Did We Get Here? The Clean Air Act (CAA) requires EPA to set standards of performance for new or modified sources of air pollution that cause or contribute to an endangerment of public health. In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court held that GHGs are an “air pollutant” subject to regulation under the CAA. In December 2009, then EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson signed an “endangerment finding,” which found that current and projected concentrations of GHGs threaten the public health and welfare, and allowed EPA to move forward with regulating GHG emissions from major stationary sources as well as from motor vehicles. The Supreme Court’s decision along with EPA’s endangerment finding compelled EPA to enact regulations to limits carbon pollution from the energy sector, which includes coal and natural-gas fired power plants.

These Carbon Pollution Standards are a vitally important step in protecting public health, combating climate change and perhaps even, to push old, out-dated coal plants to retire.

See below for more information on the Carbon Pollution Standards: