Despite failing to get environmental legislation through Congress in his first term in office, US carbon emissions dropped dramatically in President Barack Obama's first term in office. Ultralow natural gas prices, a depressed economy and an increase in renewable generation all contributed to decrease emissions to their lowest levels since 1994.
This year, however, carbon emissions look set to rise by 2.5% as coal-fired power generation regains ground it lost to natural gas. According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), coal's share in the US energy mix is back up to 40% so far this year from a low of 37% last year, while gas is down to 26%.
Against this backdrop, President Obama has unveiled a new push to regulate carbon emissions. But this time it will be without the help of the lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
Taking aim at coal
Among a range of measures announced, the president has instructed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take the lead in limiting carbon emissions from power plants. This includes reintroducing a rule that would essentially prevent the construction of new coal-fired power plants without carbon capture and storage (CCS) by limiting the amount of carbon a new power plant was allowed to emit.
Obama also issued a memorandum instructing the EPA to draw up regulations for limiting carbon emissions from existing power plants. "This plan begins with cutting carbon pollution by changing the way we use energy – using less dirty energy, using more clean energy," the president said.
Coal industry cries foul
The coal industry has reacted with strongly to the president's plans. Mike Duncan, president of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, condemned the plans: "This is going to be a legacy issue for the president: a legacy of high energy costs, lost jobs and a shattered economy," he said. "If the Obama administration fails to recognised the environmental progress the [coal] industry has made […] coal power could cease to exist, which would be devastating for [the] economy."
Written by Jonathan Rowland.
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