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New Carbon Rules Could Have Big Impact on Texas

Andy Uhler/KUT News

Big changes could be coming for Texas power plants. The Obama administration is announcing new rules today aimed at cutting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants – the chief culprit behind global warming.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wants to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel power plants in the U.S. by 30 percent (from their 2005 levels) by 2030. That “is equal to the emissions from powering more than half the homes in the United States for one year,” according to the EPA. In Texas, that drop will need to be even higher: the state’s carbon emissions from the power sector will need to fall 39 percent by 2030 under the proposal.

The U.S. is already moving towards that goal, thanks in large part to the boom in shale gas drilling that has brought more natural gas into the energy mix. That has contributed to a 12 percent decline in energy-related carbon emissions between 2005 and 2012, according to federal statistics. The economic downturn and warmer winter weather may have also played a role in that decline.

In Texas, the leading carbon emitter in the country, the new rules could have a big impact, but the devil’s in the details.

The proposed rule will target emissions from coal power plants, the biggest polluter when it comes to greenhouse gases. Those coal plants also happen to be the workhorses of the Texas power grid.

Megan Ceronsky, with the Environmental Defense Fund, said in a conference call Friday that the rules will give states flexibility in implementing the carbon reductions. “In Texas, the tremendous potential for wind power or solar power is going to be very significant in terms of designing the state’s plan,” Ceronsky said. That could mean more incentives for energy efficiencyand demand response, or credits for renewable energy.

A recent report commissioned by the US Chamber of Commerce, which represents business interests, says new regulations on carbon emissions could result in the loss of thousands of jobs in Texas and the South. It also estimates new pollution rules could cost the Texas energy market nearly one and half billion dollars, but it was prepared before the details of the new plan were known.

The EPA maintains that through efficiency, electricity bills could actually go down. Some power generators with large fleets of natural gas plants have indicated support for the plan.

Now that the details are getting out into the public, expect plenty of talk from both sides, and lawsuits from states like Texas that have long fought against federal pollution regulations. The rules are expected to be finalized around this time next year, with another year for states to come up with their own plans.

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