On Friday, the Obama administration announced the first-ever carbon limits on new coal-fired power plants, which have been blamed for global warming and pollution. The carbon dioxide would be caught in expensive technology and buried underground, and would be an incentive to focus on cleaner energy sources. Plants already in operation won’t be affected yet, but likely would be in the future, as they produce a third of the country’s greenhouse-gas emissions. The regulations will be proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency by next summer.
"In a speech at the National Press Club in Washington on Friday, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy discussed the rationale behind the new rules, and defended Obama's climate plan, which opponents say amounts to a "war on coal."
"There needs to be a certain pathway forward for coal to be successful," she said, adding that "setting fair Clean Air Act standards does not cause the sky to fall."
Still, stocks of coal mining companies fell on Friday and most are down more than 25 percent for the year to date. Alpha Natural Resources Inc fell 6.2 percent to close at $6.22 on Friday. Peabody Energy Corp closed 3.1 percent lower at $18.16 and Arch Coal Inc dropped 5 percent to $4.74.
"Today's announcement ... is direct evidence that this Administration is trying to hold the coal industry to impossible standards," said Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from the coal-producing state of West Virginia.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which represents more than 3 million businesses, said the EPA's strategies "will write off our huge, secure, affordable coal resources."
In her first major speech since being confirmed to the EPA's top job in July, McCarthy described her commitment to cleaner air in sometimes emotional terms, focused on the impact of pollution on public health.
"It's not just the elderly who suffer from air pollution. So do children - especially children in lower income and urban communities," she said. "If your child doesn't need an inhaler, then you are one very lucky parent."'
The proposal would help reshape where Americans get electricity, away from a coal-dependent past into a future fired by cleaner sources of energy. It's also a key step in President Barack Obama's global warming plans, because it would help end what he called "the limitless dumping of carbon pollution" from power plants.