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Obama Plans First-Ever Carbon Limits On Power Plants

New coal and gas-fired plant emissions will be strictly limited in the amount of carbon they can release into the atmosphere.

Posted on September 20, 2013, at 12:35 a.m. ET

In a bold move in the fight against climate change, President Obama will push ahead Friday with tough new requirements on coal and gas power plants, aiming to limit their greenhouse gas emissions for the first time.

The proposal, which is expected to be unveiled Friday morning, would require new power plants to install expensive technology that would capture carbon dioxide and bury it underground, a process known as carbon capture.

The proposal, expected to be announced at the National Press Club by Gina McCarthy, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, was provided in advance to The Associated Press and New York Times.

"New power plants, both natural gas and coal-fired, can minimize their carbon emissions by taking advantage of modern technologies," McCarthy will say Friday. "Simply put, these standards represent the cleanest standards we've put forth for new natural gas plants and new coal plants."

New plants will only be allowed a threshold of 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per megawatt hour of electricity. Current coal plants without carbon controls release about 1,800 pounds per megawatt hour.

The EPA has until next summer to propose regulations that will limit the emissions of existing power plants, which produce a third of U.S. greenhouse gases.

The new regulations stem from the Clean Air Act passed by Congress in 1970 to control air pollution. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that the Clean Air Act could be applied to heat-trapping pollution.

The coal industry will almost certainly challenge the new regulations in court, and will likely base their argument around the fact that the technology is new and has not been adequately demonstrated.

Americans currently get 40% of their electricity from coal, but now natural gas, which is cheaper, and other alternative sources may increasingly be used.