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New Carbon Pollution Standards Met with Applause… and Jeers
By Holly Testa, Director, Shareowner Engagement

You have no doubt heard about the proposed carbon standards to be applied to existing power plants that have been much in the news recently. The details are many (645 pages!), but the goal is clear: Cut carbon pollution from the power sector by 30% from 2005 levels by 2030. Power plants are the largest source of carbon pollution in the United States, with coal being by far the largest component of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (24.5% in 2012).

Now begins the year-long comment period, with critics lined up on both sides. One side is exemplified by a quote from Kevin Bundy of the Center for Biological Diversity: “This is like fighting a wildfire with a garden hose—we’re glad the president has finally turned the water on, but it’s just not enough to get the job done.”

On the other side we have the Chamber of Commerce releasing a widely criticized study full of dire predictions that was released before the EPA proposal was even announced.

In the middle are supporters, including First Affirmative, who believe that the proposed EPA regulations are the best we can hope for from the hopelessly gridlocked federal government. Climate action will spur innovation, growth, and job creation—and actually give the U.S. economy a boost. Many major companies, including Unilever, Mars Incorporated, Nike, and the North Face signed a letter in support of the proposed standards.

The transition to lower carbon sources is already underway, according to latest Ceres Benchmarking Air Emissions Report. This report, which provides emissions information on the 100 largest power producers in the country, indicates a downward trend in the emissions of nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides, mercury, and carbon dioxide since 2000, with carbon dioxide emissions decreasing 13% between 2008 and 2012. Some of this decrease is is due to the economic downturn, but the findings show that the industry is already shifting toward a combination of energy efficiency and lower carbon fuel sources.

Coal accounted for 39% of the power produced by the 100 largest companies in 2012, down from 44% in 2011. About 18% of the nation’s coal-fired generating fleet has been slated for retirement since 2010. Average utilization of coal plants has dropped from 73% in 2008 to 60% in 2013.

Perhaps most telling, renewable energy electricity generation increased 31% since 2010, even as total electricity generation declined modestly. With renewable energy rapidly achieving price parity, the transition from high carbon sources will be a natural economic transition.


At First Affirmative, we understand that the ways we save, spend, and invest can dramatically influence both the fabric and consciousness of society. We believe that in addition to the benefits of ownership, investors bear responsibility for the impact our money has in the world. Are you making conscious decisions about the impact of your consumer purchase and investment decisions?


Mention of specific companies or securities should not be considered an endorsement or a recommendation to buy or sell that security. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Posted: June 11, 2014