Carbon Pollution Standards

Learn About Carbon Pollution From Power Plants

In 2009, EPA determined that greenhouse gas pollution threatens Americans' health and welfare by leading to long lasting changes in our climate that can have a range of negative effects on human health and the environment. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the primary greenhouse gas pollutant, accounting for nearly three-quarters of global greenhouse gas emissions and 84% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

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Pie chart showing percentage of source contributions to GHGs from electricity 32%, transportat 28%, industry 20%, commercial residential 10%, and agriculture 10%
Total U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Economic Sector in 2012

Carbon pollution and power plants

The electric power sector accounted for 32% of U.S. total greenhouse gas emissions in 2012. Greenhouse gas emissions from electricity have increased by about 11% since 1990 as electricity demand has grown and fossil fuels have remained the dominant source for generation.

Fossil fuel-fired power plants are the largest source of U.S. CO2 emissions. Fossil fuel-fired power plants use natural gas, petroleum, coal or any form of solid, liquid, or gaseous fuel derived from such material for the purpose of generating electricity.

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Health effects of carbon pollution

Unchecked carbon pollution leads to long-lasting changes in our climate, such as:

  • Rising global temperatures
  • Rising sea level
  • Changes in weather and precipitation patterns
  • Changes in ecosystems, habitats and species diversity

These changes threaten America's health and welfare for current and future generations. Public health risks include:

  • More heat waves and drought
  • Worsening smog (also called ground-level ozone pollution)
  • Increasing the intensity of extreme events, like hurricanes, extreme precipitation and flooding
  • Increasing the range of ticks and mosquitoes, which can spread disease such as Lyme disease and West Nile virus

Our most vulnerable citizens, including children, older adults, people with heart or lung disease and people living in poverty may be most at risk from the health impacts of climate change.

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President's Climate Action Plan

On June 25, 2013, President Obama announced a series of executive actions to reduce carbon pollution, prepare the U.S. for the impacts of climate change and lead international efforts to address global climate change. As part of the Climate Action Plan, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum directing the EPA to work expeditiously to complete carbon pollution standards for the power sector. You can learn more about the President's Climate Action plan on the White House web site.

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