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EPA Said to Be Close to Limiting U.S. Greenhouse-Gases

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to announce today the first limits to cut U.S. greenhouse gases from power plants, according to people familiar with the matter.

The rules from President Barack Obama’s administration would set emissions for all power plants at the level established for a natural-gas plant, or about half what is released from a coal-burning facility. Any new coal plants would need expensive carbon-capture equipment, according to the people, who declined to be identified before an announcement.

The proposed nationwide standards would be the first by the EPA for carbon-dioxide from power plants, the largest source of those emissions in the U.S. Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club are pressing the Obama administration to issue tight standards to head off an increase in global warming that they warn could be catastrophic.

“It will make it nearly impossible to build a new coal plant,” Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said in an interview. “The market has been moving in this direction already” so the rule “captures the end of an era.”

While the initial impact would be minimal because utilities are not building coal plants as natural gas prices fall to 10-year lows, adopting the EPA proposal would fuel industry complaints in coal-dependent states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania. The rule would only apply to new plants, and may exempt plants that already have a permit to be built.

Coal Versus Gas

Betsaida Alcantara, an EPA spokeswoman, didn’t return telephone, e-mail and text messages seeking comment. The EPA has missed a court deadline for issuing the proposal, which would then be open for comment and finalized late this year.

The average U.S. coal plant emits 2,249 pounds of carbon dioxide for each megawatt hour of power produced, compared with 1,135 pounds for a natural-gas plant, according to the EPA. Newer combined-cycle natural-gas plants, in which the heat exhaust of a first gas-fueled turbine drives a second generator, are more efficient.

Because of falling natural-gas prices, the share of coal in electricity generation dropped below 40 percent by the end of 2011, the first time it had been that low since 1978, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency in Washington.

“This is another, in a series of new regulations, written by EPA to prevent the U.S. from taking advantage of our vast coal resources that are responsible for providing affordable electricity for America’s families and businesses,” Steve Miller, president of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity in Washington, which represents coal producers and coal-dependent power producers, said in a statement. The group blamed EPA rules for the closure of 140 power-generating units in recent years.

Carbon-dioxide emissions since the industrial revolution have led to a warming of the earth’s temperature in the past 50 years, threatening to cause extreme weather, drought and coastal flooding, according to the U.S. Global Change Research Program.

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