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EPA sets goal to cut 30% greenhouse gas emissions by 2030

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency revealed its first guidelines to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants on Monday. The Clean Power Plan seeks to cut carbon-dioxide emissions an average of 30% from 2005 levels by 2030 and provide up to $93 billion in climate and public health benefits.

The plan “is not just about disappearing polar bears and melting ice caps,” said EPA administrator Gina McCarthy during the announcement. It’s about protecting health, homes, economies and jobs, she said.

The proposal builds on President Obama’s wide-reaching Climate Action Plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants, the single largest source of carbon emissions in the U.S., the EPA said. Power plans account for about one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions.

The action would be one of the strongest ever taken by the U.S. government to tackle climate change, according to a report. While there are currently limits on the level of arsenic, mercury, sulfur dioxide and particle pollution that power plans can emit, there are no existing national limits on carbon pollution levels.

McCarthy said the economic implications would not be significant: Any small price increase from the EPA rule is about the cost of a gallon of milk a month and the benefit is worth it. “We don’t have to choose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment,” she said.

States, which will each have a customized reduction standard, will control the best way to meet the rules, whether it be cap-and-trade policies, increasing energy-efficient technologies or using diverse fuels. The national average will be a 25% reduction by 2020 and 30% by 2030.

Already, 47 states have utilities that run energy efficiency programs, 38 have renewable portfolio standards or goals and 10 have market-based greenhouse gas emissions programs. The new federal-state partnership looks to expand and build on these local gains. States will be responsible for presenting compliance plans to the EPA by June 2016, outlining their strategy to meet their assigned goal.

“We’re not doing cutting edge work here,” said McCarthy. “We’re opening the door to let cutting edge happen.”

The standards will be finalized by next June based on feedback over the next several months. The agency will accept comment on the proposal for 120 days after its publication in the Federal Register and will hold four public hearings across the country, including Denver, Atlanta, Washington, D.C. and Pittsburgh.