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Administrator Gina McCarthy, Remarks on Carbon Pollution Standards for New Power Plants, As Prepared

09/20/2013
Good morning, everyone.


Less than three months ago, President Obama stood outside in sweltering heat to unveil a new national plan to confront the growing threat of climate change. He delivered, in my opinion, one of the most important speeches of his Presidency. Yes, I am a little biased. But in those 45 minutes, the President laid out his vision and a plan to protect our kids and families from pollution and fight climate change. He called on agencies across the federal government – including the EPA – to take action to cut carbon pollution, protect our country from the impacts of climate change, and lead the world in this effort. He asked a question we should all ask ourselves: do we have the courage to act before it’s too late? How we answer will have a profound impact on the world we leave behind for our children.

The president called on EPA to take action, and we’ve responded. Why wouldn’t we? Our job is to protect public health and the environment. EPA is the only federal agency solely focused on delivering clean air, clean water, and safe and healthy land to American families. For more than 40 years, EPA has done its job well – with honor and distinction. We’ve done our job by developing and using the best science available, and being transparent in our decision-making. We’ve done our job by working with everyone from states to businesses and NGOs and everyone in between – to ensure we make progress that’s sensible across all regions of the country.

The overwhelming judgment of science tells us that climate change is real, human activities are fueling that change, and we must take action to avoid the most devastating consequences of climate change. We know this is not just about melting glaciers. Climate change – caused by carbon pollution – is one of the most significant public health threats of our time. That’s why EPA has been called to action. And that’s why today’s action is so important for us to talk about. Let me explain.

Climate change is about water. It’s about clean, reliable sources of drinking water. It’s about aging water and wastewater treatment facilities – that end up overstressed and flooded during extreme weather events. It’s about mudslides and storm surges from pounding rain, and sewers that back up and overflow. It’s about inadequate stormwater systems that let pollution attack sensitive ecosystems like our wetlands and estuaries – threatening fish and wildlife. It’s about all these impacts adding up, spoiling the beauty and vitality of some of our country’s most iconic water bodies – threatening the comfort, safety, and livability of our communities.

Climate change is also about heat waves and droughts. Droughts that drive up food prices and strain food supplies, as well as threaten manufacturing operations that rely on water to run their businesses. Climate change is about wildfires. Wildfires like recent ones in the Southwest. Fires that, in 2012 alone, scorched more than nine million acres across eight states. That’s an area more than two and a half times the great state of Connecticut. Think of all the property damaged, lives lost, forests destroyed, and air pollution caused by these fires – destroying landscapes and putting communities at risk. Climate change is about the spread of disease. Warmer temperatures contribute to the rise of small creatures like mosquitoes and ticks. Their bites might not seem deadly, but they spread diseases like Lyme disease and West Nile virus – farther and wider as the climate changes.

And most importantly – climate change is about clean, healthy air for us to breathe. Carbon pollution and hotter weather can lead to longer allergy seasons, increased heat-related deaths, and direct threats to those who suffer from chronic lung and heart diseases. We also know that rising temperatures bring increased smog. Let me drill down on this one a bit.

EPA has been studying and regulating pollution that leads to ground level ozone – or smog – for decades. One thing we know for sure: when the weather gets hotter, smog gets worse, and people of all ages suffer. My guess is that most of you know someone who is affected by smog. Smog makes it harder to breathe and too many of us have health challenges that smog can make worse. Take Daniel Dolan-Laughlin for example. Daniel is a retired railroad executive from Wheaton, Illinois. He suffered from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, COPD – a life-threatening illness that affects the lungs and respiratory system, the kind of condition that can be made worse by smog. Luckily, Daniel’s received a double lung transplant and his health has improved significantly. But last year Daniel came to EPA to tell his story. He came to make one specific ask of our agency: he asked us to act on climate change. Why? He understands how climate change leads to increased air pollution, which can make respiratory illnesses like his so much worse.

Unfortunately, Daniel’s story is all too familiar. It’s not just adults and the elderly who suffer from air pollution, so do children – especially children in lower income and urban communities. If your child doesn’t need an inhaler, then you are a very lucky parent – because one in ten children in the United States live with asthma every day. That’s right – one in ten. When it comes to health concerns, our children always come to mind. At the end of the day, that’s what this is all about. That’s why EPA cares about climate change and must take action now.

That’s why people from low-income, environmental justice communities across the nation are concerned they are so often at risk when disaster strikes. That’s why groups like MomsRising are speaking up about protecting our children from the threat of pollution and climate change. That’s why faith groups of all denominations are encouraging action. We must meet our moral obligation to the next generation – to be good stewards of our natural resources. It’s those resources that provide the foundation for our health, our well-being, and our economy.

The President’s Climate Action Plan calls on federal agencies to take steady, sensible, and pragmatic steps to cut the harmful carbon pollution that fuels our changing climate, to prepare our communities for its unavoidable impacts, while continuing to provide affordable and reliable energy for all. And that’s why I am here today. To announce that EPA is taking one of those important steps with a proposal to limit carbon pollution from new power plants.

Power plants are the single largest sources of carbon pollution. New power plants can minimize their carbon emissions by taking advantage of available modern technologies. These technologies offer them a clear path forward, today and in the long-term. Let me get into detail just a bit.

These proposed standards are the first uniform national limits on carbon pollution from new power plants. They do not apply to existing power plants. That’s worth repeating. These proposed standards are the first uniform national limits on carbon pollution from new power plants. They do not apply to existing power plants. Today’s proposal sets separate national limits for new natural gas power plants and new coal power plants. New large natural gas plants would need to meet a limit of 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour, while new small natural gas plants would need to meet a limit of 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour. New coal plants would need to meet a limit of 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour. Coal plants could choose to have some additional flexibility if they want to average their emissions over multiple years by meeting a somewhat tighter limit.

Some of you may remember that we proposed standards for new power plants last year. So why are we starting all over again? Well, we received extensive public comment – over two million – on the earlier proposal. We considered new data and we took a look at recent trends in the power sector. For these reasons, we decided to update the proposal.

We are confident that the carbon pollution standards are flexible and achievable. They pave a path forward for the next generation of power plants. The standards are flexible because they set different standards for different types of power plants. The standards are achievable because they’ll secure major public health and environmental protections, and they reflect the demonstrated performance of a variety of efficient, clean, homegrown technologies. Technologies that are currently entering the market and being constructed today. The standards set the stage for continued public and private investment in technologies like Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS). With these investments, technologies will eventually mature and become as common for new power plants as scrubbers have become for well-controlled plants in generation today.

If there is one thing I have learned over the course of my work in implementing the Clean Air Act, it’s that power plants have long lifespans – sometimes 60 years or more. But people are making decisions about how to build those plants today – which is one reason why we must act today. That’s what makes standards for new plants so important, and why this proposal takes full advantage of all cutting edge technologies that increase efficiency and reduce waste. As always, EPA is expecting lots of comments on this proposal. We will give each and every one thorough consideration.

With all this talk of cutting carbon pollution, you’re probably wondering – what are we doing about the pollution from existing power plants? Addressing that is an important piece of the President’s Climate Action Plan. And we are committed to act on existing plants too. However, those proposed standards are on a longer timeline. We plan to release a proposal for public comment in June of next year. So we’ve started the process already in order to meet that timeline. That process involves engaging with state and local governments, industry leaders, NGOs, labor organizations, and others who want to weigh in. We plan to be in very close consultation with states on this. We must ensure the guidance EPA proposes will be flexible enough to account for differences among states and regions.

I can promise you that EPA will follow the course the President charted in his speech in June. To get where we want to go, we must build partnerships with state, local, and community leaders. We can learn a lot from their on-going efforts to reduce carbon pollution and move toward a cleaner, more efficient electricity sector. And we hope to build on their progress.

In fact: 10 states are already participating in their own market-based programs to cut carbon pollution. More than 35 states have clean energy targets. More than 25 have set energy efficiency goals, cutting energy waste. And over 1,000 mayors across the country have signed agreements to cut carbon pollution. Clearly, states and local communities are doing their jobs as incubators for innovation. They are leading the way to cleaner, more affordable, more sustainable energy.

And they have proven that fighting climate change just makes good business sense. As the President has pointed out, more than 500 businesses – including GM and Nike – called acting on climate change, quote: “one of the great economic opportunities of the 21st century.”

We know climate change and protecting our kids from harmful pollution can’t be solved overnight. It’s going to take a broad, concerted effort from all levels of government and the private sector – as well as the international community. But make no mistake about it, EPA’s action today to address carbon pollution from new power plants is an important step forward in our clean energy journey. It’s a necessary step to address a public health challenge that we cannot afford to avoid any longer.

The good news is, we can successfully face the challenge of climate change if we work together.
We have proven time after time that setting fair Clean Air Act standards to protect public health does not cause the sky to fall. The economy does not crumble. In fact, we are already seeing our investments in clean energy pay off. Just this week, the Department of Energy released a report showing the cost of renewables dropping, while their use has grown. And last year, in 2012, the U.S. deployed almost twice as much wind as it did the year before. Working together – with input from states, communities, tribes, industry, and environmental advocates – we have grown our economy, we have driven innovation, and we have created healthier, safer, more livable communities to hand down to our children and grandchildren.

Let’s not forget – under this President’s leadership just a few years ago, we established historic fuel economy standards for passenger vehicles, saving consumers thousands of dollars at the pump. Those standards didn’t cripple the auto industry; they made it stronger and more competitive. By working arm in arm with industry, the UAW, consumer groups, environmental advocates and others, we got the job done, and we got the job done right. With the support of the auto industry, we achieved standards that will cut carbon pollution from our cars in half by 2025. And the average driver will save more than $8,000 dollars at the pump over the life of their car. Far from the auto industry collapsing – it’s thriving.

Forty years of Clean Air Act history proves we can reduce pollution while at the same time creating jobs and strengthening the economy. The old rules may say we can’t protect our environment and promote economic growth at the same time, but in America, we’ve always used new technologies, we’ve used science, we’ve used research and development and discovery to make these old rules obsolete. Here in the United States, we have the knowhow, the skill, and the ingenuity we need to take on climate change. We can, and must, turn this public health and environmental challenge into an economic opportunity. As the President has reminded us, all we need is the courage to act.

For me, to muster that courage, all I have to do is look into the faces of my three precious children – Daniel, Maggie, and Julie. In the end, that’s what it’s all about. Our obligation to leave our children a world that’s as healthy and safe as the world we inherited.

Thank you very much