Maryland's Democratic office-holders joined environmentalists in praising the Obama administration's announcement Friday that it is moving to curb carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants.
Gov. Martin O'Malley issued a statement in support of the regulation issued by the Environmental Protection Agency, which would impose limits on carbon emitted by new power plants. He noted that existing power plants account for 34 percent of the nation's climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions, the largest source.
O'Malley called it "a commonsense approach that will protect public health from the impacts of climate change and spur growth by fostering innovation in cleaner energy technologies like wind power and solar."
Maryland Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, co-chair of a joint congressional task force on climate change, called the announcement "needed and welcome news."
"For years we have had power plant standards that protect our communities from air pollutants like lead and mercury," Cardin said. "Today, we are finally seeing similar standards for the carbon pollution that drives climate change, our biggest global threat."
The regulation issued Friday has little immediate impact in Maryland, since it applies only to new power plants. State officials say there are four gas-burning power plants proposed, but no coal plants. President Obama has directed EPA to come up with limits for existing power plants by next year, though, which could affect the eight facilities in the state that burn coal.
Maryland already regulates carbon emissions on plants in the state through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a compact of northeastern states that requires power plants to limit emissions or buy carbon "credits" for any exceedences. The regular credit auctions have generated tens of millions of dollars that the state has funneled into rate relief for the poor, and promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy development.
EPA had earlier floated new power plant limits, but retooled them after industry complained the earlier version was unattainable. The new rule sets different emission limits for gas- and coal-fired power plants, a move that pleased the natural gas industry but left the coal industry and its backers unhappy. While some new gas-fired plants already are meeting the EPA standard, critics say the carbon-capture technology to help coal plants meet their limits has yet to be proven.
The American Chemistry Council, an industry group, issued a statement saying the emission limit for coal plants is "unachievable and will harm energy diversity by effectively ending construction of new coal-fired power plants in the United States."
The Edison Electric Institute, representing electricity generators, called the EPA's limit for gas-burning plants reasonable, but joined in criticizing the coal standard and warned it could push power prices up.