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Stopping Greenhouse Gases: The Need for EPA Authority

Stopping and ultimately reversing climate change is an urgent health necessity. To accomplish this difficult but vital goal, we need to take actions on a scale big enough to have real, global impacts.

That means here in the U.S., we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions dramatically. The primary greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is now proposing limits on carbon dioxide from power plants. That step could slash U.S. climate pollution, as coal-burning plants spew 40 percent of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions. 

The EPA has proposed limiting carbon emissions form new power plants to 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour. Currently, an average U.S. coal plant dumps over 1,700 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere for every megawatt-hour of energy it produces.

Take action! Send your comments to the EPA, explaining why reducing carbon pollution is important for health

New plants will have the option of capturing 20 to 40 percent of the carbon they emit and store it using carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. However, CCS would require the construction of a vast infrastructure, poses the danger of carbon dioxide leakage, and has yet to be shown to be workable on an industrial scale.

By June 2014, the EPA plants to propose standards for the 6,500 existing power plants across the country. As these plants have have free up to now to pollute the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, this will be a significant and welcome step in reducing carbon dioxide in teh atmosphere and protecting the health of American citizens.  the health of American citizens.

For more information on the health effects of climate change, see “Climate Change Threatens Your Health”.

For more information on the health effects of coal-fired power plants, see “Coal and Climate” or download our factsheets on Coal and Climate and Coal Ash.

EPA Action: A Powerful Tool

The EPA has acknowledged the dangers of air pollution. It issued a formal determination in 2009 that carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases endanger the public health and welfare of current and future generations. 

This “endangerment finding” opened the way for the EPA to take concrete steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

However, as the EPA has geared up to take effective action, it has faced unrelenting challenges from members of Congress, many of them from coal- and oil-producing states.

The major source of greenhouse gases is the burning of fossil fuels – for electricity generation (33% of 2011 greenhouse gas emissions), transportation (28%), and industry (20%).

A source of increasing concern is hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for natural gas extraction. Natural gas is primarily methane, and new estimates of the amount of methane leaking from active and sealed wells suggests that fracking operations could be as serious a source of climate change as coal-fired power plants.