Every conflict has to have an antagonist, and in the ongoing war against global warming, nothing takes the heat like coal.


Recently the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took a stab in the conflagration, swiping its regulatory saber broadly at the greenhouse gas emissions made by the black rock and the power plants that use it.


On June 2, 2014, the EPA announced a new set of guidelines to cut emissions from existing power plants. The EPA explained that the combustion of fossil fuels to generate electricity is the largest single source of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the nation, accounting for about 38 percent of total U.S. CO2 emissions and 31 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2012. It stated that coal is the biggest culprit in this scenario, producing more CO2 than either oil or natural gas.


To remedy this problem, the EPA proposal has two main elements. The first includes state-specific emission rate-based CO2 goals. The second includes guidelines for the development, submission and implementation of state plans.


The EPA emphasized that the proposed rule is flexible, allowing each state to work alone to develop its own plan or in collaboration with neighboring states to develop multistate plans. States can choose how they want to meet the federal goals using the right mix of diverse fuels, energy efficiency and demand-side management depending on their specific needs.


The EPA will hold four public hearings to receive input on the proposal before finalizing it in June 2015. The hearings will be held this summer in Atlanta, Denver, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.


When finalized, the rule is expected to achieve a 30 percent reduction from 2005 levels nationwide in the power sector’s CO2 emissions by 2030.