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Obama administration seeks 30% cut in power plant carbon emissions

US President Barack Obama's administration has unveiled one of the strongest actions ever taken by the American government to fight climate change -- it has proposed new regulations to cut carbon pollution from US power plants by 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030.

WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama's administration has unveiled one of the strongest actions ever taken by the American government to fight climate change -- it has proposed new regulations to cut carbon pollution from US power plants by 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which unveiled the new plans, said the changes could transform how power is generated and used in America. However, critics said it will harm the economy and lead to job losses.

Since December 1910, the Capitol Power Plant has been generating heat to keep lawmakers warm, and now it also keeps them cool too -- powering their air conditioning.

Since 2007, the coal-fired plant has gradually been switching over to natural gas, which now accounts for over 93 per cent of its fuel.

This is part of a nationwide trend, as coal-fired plants gradually change to natural gas instead -- a fuel that now generates 30 per cent of America's electricity and emits half the carbon of coal.

Now that it can keep the lights on without coal, the Obama administration has introduced new plans to clamp down on carbon emissions -- allowing states to choose from several options, including cap-and-trade schemes, so as to achieve a 30 per cent cut by 2030.

Gina McCarthy, an administrator with the Environmental Protection Agency, said: "Today, EPA is proposing a clean power plan that will cut carbon pollution from our energy sector by using clean energy sources, and cutting energy waste.

"Currently, there are no limits on carbon pollution from power plants, our nation's largest sources... We have a moral obligation to act on climate. When we do, we'll turn climate risks into business opportunities."

But not everyone is happy -- critics complain the move will drive up energy costs, lead to job losses in the traditional energy sector and make little difference to the environment anyway.

US senator Marco Rubio said: "What I disagree with is the notion that if we pass cap-and-trade for example, this will stop (climate change) from happening, when in fact half of the new emissions on the planet are coming from developing countries and half of that is coming from one country -- China -- that isn't going to follow whatever laws we pass."

Climate experts who welcome these changes said that in fact China is part of the drive to innovate when it comes to renewable energy:

Vicki Arroyo, an executive director from Georgetown Climate Centre, said: "China actually has pretty aggressive automobile vehicle efficiency standards and they have for some time. And they, of course, are making tremendous investment in renewables.

"Part of why the price of renewables have dropped so much is because of China's investment -- in sort of like an arms race if you will -- to make cheaper renewable power sources."

Meanwhile, the EPA said that in the US, the scheme will lead to economic benefits of up to US$93 billion over the life of the new rules, and cut down electricity prices by about 80 per cent by 2030.

As plants like the Capitol Power Plant switch from coal to natural gas, America's CO2 emissions have been falling over the last few years to their lowest levels since the 1990s.

The Obama administration said that shows these new regulations will not hurt the economy but the clock is ticking -- the EPA has one year to get public comment on these new measures before finalising them in June 2015. 

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