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October 22, 2013

EPA's Proposed Standards for Natural Gas Plants Fail President's Climate Goals

"The question is not whether we need to act.... The question now is whether we will have the courage to act before it's too late."

Those were President Obama's words during his landmark climate speech this past summer at Georgetown University. That speech marked a new, aggressive commitment to addressing the climate crisis by using climate pollution as a yardstick for major energy and environment decisions. The president laid out an ambitious vision for a clean-energy future that would generate jobs, promote healthy communities, and set an example for the world.

That's why we can't help but question why the Environmental Protection Agency would consider performance standards for new gas fueled power plants that could lock in continued reliance on fossil fuels for decades and fail to carry out the president's vision.

Although the EPA's proposed standard for coal plants will significantly reduce carbon pollution, the standards for natural gas will not require new plants to perform any better than old ones. By setting carbon-pollution standards for new and existing gas-powered power plants that don't achieve any actual emissions reductions -- even though we have the technology to do so -- the EPA's proposal gives the natural gas industry a free pass to pollute. That means no reductions in carbon pollution from natural gas. Clearly, this would be a colossal missed opportunity.

Failure to use this once-in-a-generation opportunity to require the natural gas industry to use existing pollution control technology will undermine the president’s environmental legacy. As outlined in the International Energy Agency's 2011 Golden Rules for a Golden Age of Gas report, a scenario where gas use in the electricity sector increases significantly puts us on a path to a long-term global temperature increase of over six degrees Fahrenheit, which would be tragic. If the EPA is serious about the climate crisis, it needs to be serious about reducing emissions from all power plants -- regardless of whether they are fueled by gas or coal.

Remember, too, that burning more natural gas inevitably means more drilling and fracking -- and more pollution. That pollution, which causes respiratory problems and premature deaths, disproportionately harms low-income communities. But all Americans are affected by it. In fact, a recent UT Austin study found that greenhouse gas emissions from fracking for gas alone were equivalent to 10 million cars on the road each year -- and that's just the pollution from fracking, not counting the emissions when the gas itself is burned or leaks along transport lines. Giving a free polluter's pass to natural gas plants is an attack on everyone who values clean air and safe drinking water.

Fortunately, it's not too late. The EPA's upcoming public listening sessions for existing gas plants give us a chance to tell the agency that we want it to make the president's clean-energy vision a reality. That means not letting gas-powered plants off the hook. The best path forward is to set tough standards for new and existing gas plants and invest in clean energy such as solar and wind now. Even if you can't attend a listening session, you can tell the EPA that you want strong safeguards against pollution from all existing power plants. You can also register to attend and participate in an EPA public listening session by clicking here.

The question isn't whether we need to act. We know that more fossil fuels, including natural gas, will lead to a much warmer future. The question is whether President Obama and the EPA are courageous enough to stand up to the oil and gas industry. We must demand they not give a free pass to natural gas.

-- Deb Nardone, Director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Natural Gas Campaign


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