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Environmental group presses Obama to cut emissions from existing power plants

An environmental group is pressuring President Barack Obama’s administration to implement carbon dioxide emissions standards for existing power plants, encouraging a federal-state partnership to cut emissions.

The Natural Resource Defense Council proposed a plan that would allow states to take different routes to cutting emissions. Options include cleaning up existing power plants, shifting power generation to zero-to-low carbon-emitting plants, and improving plants’ electrical efficiency.

The proposal would also allow for credits to utilities that implement energy efficiency programs and let utilities average their older plant emissions with emission-free new renewable energy projects.

The NRDC says that existing plants make up 40 percent of the country’s carbon emissions. The plan would cut carbon pollution from existing plants 26 percent by 2020 and 34 percent by 2025. The plan would cost $4 billion in 2020, but yield between $25 billion and $60 billion in benefits from lives saved, avoided illnesses and reduced climate change, according to the NRDC.

“The president put climate change on the national agenda, and NRDC’s plan shows how the United States can make big reductions in carbon pollution that drive climate change, with a flexible approach that promotes clean energy investments and delivers big benefits for Americans’ health,” said NRDC Executive Director Peter Lehner.

The EPA has already proposed standards for existing power plants, but has not yet proposed any for new power plants.

The Washington Post reports that an NRDC spokesperson said proposal would still accelerate the closure of old coal plants, and sources have said that the EPA is looking for ways to use the Clean Air Act to further promote energy efficiency.

The coal industry has already been hit hard by environmental regulations in the EPA’s alleged “war on coal,” which has contributed to the planned shutdown of more than 200 coal-fired generators across 25 states, reports the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. (RELATED: Hundreds of coal-fired generators slated for shutdown)

“It’s going to be a rougher second term for oil and gas given the way the environmental debate is going and the diminished incentive Obama has to protect oil and gas after his last election is behind him,” said Robert McNally, a former White House energy adviser under George W. Bush and current head of the Rapidan Group consulting firm.

Furthermore, analysis by National Economic Research Associates found that seven major EPA regulations could cost as high as $16.7 billion per year and 887,000 jobs per year.

The NRDC claims its plan will stimulate more than $90 billion in energy efficiency investments and renewable energy sources in eight years, as well as create thousands of jobs.

“The impact is huge: our proposal would eliminate hundreds of millions of tons of carbon pollution, save thousands of lives and stimulate a surge in clean energy and energy efficiency investments,” said NRDC Director of Climate and Clean Air programs and a principal author of the plan Dan Lashof, “all at a lower cost than many would expect.”

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