Climate Change Is Water Change

Dec. 30, 2013
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will set Clean Air Act standards to cut carbon pollution from new power plants by June 1, 2014, and will work with governments, industries and other sectors to establish tighter carbon pollution standards for existing power plants.

New Standards Aim to Cut Carbon Pollution Linked to Power Plants

By Patrick Crow, Washington Correspondent

President Barack Obama's recent initiative to reduce carbon emissions from electrical power plants is being touted as a first step toward preserving water resources.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will set Clean Air Act standards to cut carbon pollution from new power plants by June 1, 2014, and will work with governments, industries and other sectors to establish tighter carbon pollution standards for existing power plants.

"Climate change is one of the most significant public health challenges of our time," said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. "By taking commonsense action to limit carbon pollution from new power plants, we can slow the effects of climate change,"

Under the proposal, new large natural-gas-fired turbines would need to meet a limit of 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour, while new small natural-gas-fired turbines would be required to match a limit of 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour. Further, new coal-fired units would need to meet the latter limit but would have the option to comply with a somewhat tighter one if they choose to average emissions over multiple years, giving them additional operational flexibility.

The EPA said the standards will ensure that new power plants are built with available clean technology to limit carbon pollution and will encourage them to use cleaner technologies such as natural gas, advanced coal technology, nuclear power, and renewable energy like wind and solar.

The agency noted that power plants are the largest concentrated source of emissions in the United States, together accounting for roughly one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions. The federal government has limits on arsenic, mercury and lead pollution from power plants but not on their carbon emissions.

The environmental group Clean Water Action was quick to note that McCarthy, when announcing the program, commented, "Climate change is really about water."

Lynn Thorp, national campaigns director, said, "We couldn't agree more -- climate change is ‘water change,' and we are already seeing these impacts. Curbing unlimited dumping of carbon pollution by coal plants is an important step in addressing the threat of climate change to water and on our health and on our communities."

Key Role of Wastewater Utilities

The National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) also stated that climate change is fundamentally about water. In a recent testimony submitted to a House Energy and Power subcommittee on the Obama administration's initiative, it outlined the role that wastewater utilities will play in helping the nation adapt to climate change and extreme weather events.

NACWA urged Congress to ensure that the wastewater sector be fully engaged and its expertise be utilized as the administration implements its climate action plan and related efforts to address the challenge.

"Climate change is all about water, and wastewater managers are becoming key first responders in climate-related events," said NACWA Executive Director, Ken Kirk. "We need to bolster the resiliency of wastewater utilities to ensure they can continue to provide uninterrupted service to communities around the country.

He continued, "This of course does not come without a large price tag. NACWA's 2009 study with the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies estimated that the costs for building resiliency at water and wastewater utilities could reach almost a trillion dollars by mid-century. The federal government must be a reliable partner in helping meet the nation's resiliency needs as it relates to managing our water and wastewater infrastructure."

The Water Research Foundation (WRF) stated in a report, Changes in Water Demand Under Regional Climate Change Scenarios, that for all six case study utilities, an increase in water demand was forecasted across all climate projection scenarios evaluated. Among the report's recommendations, it advised water utilities to devote more resources to studying and modeling demand patterns based on climate change projections and weather scenarios.

While Congress is aware of how global warming can impact water utilities, however, it has wielded little incentive to propose a solution.

As such, Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) have introduced similar bills to offer up to $50 million per year to help water and wastewater utilities adapt their infrastructure to the impacts of changing hydrological conditions. The legislation would help utilities upgrade infrastructure to better meet changing hydrological conditions, and funds awarded through the program could cover up to 50 percent of the total cost of a given project.

Cardin stressed that the new program would "complement, not replace" the existing Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds (SRF) and would help grow the economy by delivering more local construction jobs across the country.

About the Author: Patrick Crow covered the U.S. Congress and federal agencies for 21 years as a reporter for industry magazines. He has reported on water issues for the past 15 years. Crow is now a Houston, Texas-based freelance writer.

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