Here’s How to Clean Up Dirty, Old Power Plants

A nuanced plan that might actually work, if Obama goes in for it.

The Natural Resources Defense Council thinks it has the perfect solution to regulating planet-warming emissions from existing power plants. But can the group sell the Obama administration Environmental Protection Agency on it?

NRDC’s plan, released on Tuesday, outlines a framework for using the Clean Air Act (Section 111d, to be exact) to set new regulations on the country’s 1,500 existing coal plants. Rather than a straightforward limit on emissions—which would likely require major retrofits or shutting the plants down altogether—NRDC’s plan is somewhat more flexible. For starters, each state would have targets based on current emissions—so states that get most of their power from coal would have lower, more realistic targets than states that get their power from, say, hydropower. The state would work toward lowering its average across all power plants to meet the targets. Ambitious states like California could still adopt tougher targets for themselves that require deeper emission cuts than the federal rules.

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The Climate Desk is a journalistic collaboration dedicated to exploring the impact—human, environmental, economic, political—of a changing climate. The partners are The Atlantic, Center for Investigative Reporting, Grist, The Guardian, Huffington Post, Mother Jones, Slate, and Wired.