ON TUESDAY, the Environmental Protection Agency announced its first limits on carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants. By requiring that facilities produce less than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour, the rule essentially bans construction of traditional coal-fired power plants. That’s good: Burning coal releases lots of carbon dioxide and a range of nasty pollutants that encourage heart attacks and respiratory illness.
Yet only by the miserable standards of Congress’s continuing inaction on climate change is this rule impressive. The EPA’s new carbon standards won’t change all that much. Low natural gas prices and the high efficiency of natural gas power plants have already moved the market away from coal and toward that cleaner fossil fuel. Should natural gas prices shoot up, the EPA’s rules guarantee that utilities couldn’t turn back to old coal years down the road, The Post’s Brad Plumer and Grist’s Dave Roberts point out. The rule also provides America some moral authority to pressure other nations to scale back coal burning. But those are modest benefits.