U.S. EPA’s Plans to Make Grid Greener Will Make Electric Cars Greener Too

Electric cars are far more green than gasoline-powered ones, even if they’re charged from the average mix of electricity produced by a combination of coal, oil, gas, nuclear and renewable energy sources. And while many electric car drivers around the world opt to charge their car from domestic photovoltaic solar panels or 100 per cent green utility companies, electric cars really are only as green as the emissions of the power stations used to produce the electricity to charge them.

(Photo reproduced under CC.2.0 -- by Flickr user "Pablo")

Coal fired power plant. (Photo reproduced under CC.2.0 — by Flickr user “Pablo”)

Unlike other automotive fuels however, the electrical grid is just getting greener and greener — and an announcement made today by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency heralds a future where even those who recharge their electric cars from the local power grid will benefit from massively reduced emissions.

Detailed this morning as part of a continuing Presidential commitment to lowering greenhouse gas emissions, the EPA has laid out its Clean Power Plan: a regulatory path to reduce U.S. carbon emissions from power generation to 2005 levels by 2030. This will, says the EPA, equate to the equivalent of $93 billion in climate and public health benefits, prevent up to 6,600 premature deaths and save more than 490,000 sick days from citizens suffering from pollution-related conditions such as Asthma.

Executed under the executive powers granted to the President in the 1970 Clean Air Act, the EPA’s proposed regulations can make it into law without passing through both houses as most legislation must do.

As part of the Clean Power Plan, carbon emissions from existing coal-fired power plants will need to fall by 30 per cent by 2030. Already a diminishing part of the U.S. grid power mix, coal fired power stations are notorious for their high carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide emissions, as well as dangerously high levels of ultra-fine particulate matter and other greenhouse gas emissions.

While there are currently strict limits on the amount of arsenic, mercury, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particle pollution that power plants can produce, there are currently no limits to the amount of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide a coal fired plant can produce. The new proposals detailed today will impose such limits, bringing them in line with many other sources of pollution. 

With one third of all U.S. carbon emissions coming from power generation, carbon limits like those proposed under the Clean Power Plan will not only improve the nation’s carbon footprint, but also make electric cars far more ecologically sound — even if you don’t charge your car directly from renewable sources.

As our friends over at GreenCarReports note however, the Clean Power Plan is likely to meet with some tough opposition, especially as each state will be allowed to define its own ways of meeting the emissions targets. Moreover, the plan is about to undergo a 120-day period of consultation, which means anyone who objects to the proposed regulation — including pro-coal mining states like West Virginia — will be allowed to voice their concerns before the Clean Power Plan regulations are finalised next June.

Of the 30 per cent reduction in carbon emissions, it’s also worth noting that this figure is an average across the U.S. Some states may find that the EPA requests a smaller or larger reduction in emissions, depending on each individual state’s current emissions, population density and energy policy.

The regulations will also likely enact a cap-and-trade system for power plant emissions, something criticised in the past for allowing polluters to ‘buy’ their way into a greener carbon footprint.

Whatever the outcome of the proposed legislation, it’s likely that this push by the EPA — acting on Presidential orders — will dramatically reduce the carbon emissions of the U.S. power grid.

And that means electric cars will just continue to get greener and greener.

(Photo reproduced under CC.2.0 — by Flickr user “Pablo“)


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