The US Environmental Protection Agency on 11 May proposed new carbon pollution standards for coal and natural gas-fired power plants. The aim is to protect public health, reduce harmful pollutants and deliver up to $85 billion in climate and public health benefits over the next two decades. The proposal, for coal and new natural gas power plants, is estimated to avoid up to 617 million metric tons of total carbon dioxide through to 2042, while public health benefits are expected to include the prevention of 300 000 asthma attacks and 1300 premature deaths in 2030 alone.
The proposals would also result in cutting tens of thousands of tons of particulate matter (PM2.5), sulphur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide, air pollutants known to endanger people’s health.
Together with other recent EPA actions to address health-harming pollution from the power sector, today’s proposed rule delivers on the Administration’s commitment to reduce pollution from the power sector while providing long-term regulatory certainty and operational flexibility. The nation’s 3400 coal- and gas-fired power plants currently generate about 25 % of the greenhouse gases produced by the USA, pollution that is contributing significantly to climate change.
Consistent with EPA’s approach to establishing pollution standards under the Clean Air Act, the proposed limits and guidelines would require ambitious reductions in carbon pollution based on proven and cost-effective control technologies that can be applied directly to power plants. So the government is not mandating the use of equipment to capture carbon emissions before they leave the exhaust stack, rather the regulations would set caps on pollution rates, which power plant operators would have to meet. But the EPA believes that they also provide owners and operators of power plants with ample lead time and substantial compliance flexibilities, allowing power companies and grid operators to make sound long-term planning and investment decisions consistent with the aim of delivering reliable and affordable electricity. EPA’s analysis found that power companies can implement the standards with a negligible impact on electricity prices, well within the range of historical fluctuations.
President Biden’s policy agenda has already kicked off a clean energy and manufacturing boom across the country and appears to be adding momentum to technologies like carbon capture and storage (CCS) and clean hydrogen.
The technology-based standards EPA is proposing include:
- Strengthening the current New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for newly built fossil fuel-fired stationary combustion turbines (generally natural gas-fired);
- Establishing emission guidelines for states to follow in limiting carbon pollution from existing fossil fuel-fired steam generating EGUs (including coal, oil and natural gas-fired units);
- Establishing emission guidelines for large, frequently used existing fossil fuel-fired stationary combustion turbines (generally natural gas-fired);
- Based on a separate analysis, EPA is projecting the proposed standards for existing gas-fired plants and the third phase of the NSPS could achieve up to 407 million metric tons of CO2 emission reductions. As EPA works to finalise the rulemaking, the agency will complete additional advanced modelling, aligning methodologies across the rulemaking and considering real-world scenarios within the power sector to best understand how components of the rule impact each other.
As required by section 111 of the Clean Air Act, these proposed standards and emission guidelines reflect the best system of emission reduction (BSER) that has been demonstrated to improve the emissions performance of the sources, taking into account costs, energy requirements, and other factors. In developing these proposed carbon pollution standards, EPA considered a range of technologies including CCS, utilizing low-GHG hydrogen, and adopting highly efficient generation technologies.
EPA will take comment on these proposals for 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. EPA will also hold a virtual public hearing and will make additional information available on its website.
The plan is sure to face opposition from the fossil fuel industry, power plant operators and their allies in Congress. It is likely to draw an immediate legal challenge from a group of Republican attorneys general that has already sued the Biden administration to stop other climate policies.
“This proposal will further strain America’s electric grid and undermine decades of work to reliably keep the lights on across the undermine decades of work to reliably keep the lights on across the nation,” said Jim Matheson, president of the National Rural Electric Co-operative Association, which operates power plants serving the country’s least developed communities.
Patrick Morrisey, the Republican attorney general of West Virginia, who for the past decade has led a multistate legal battle to constrain the EPA’s authority, predicted that the newest proposals would not survive court challenges. “It is not going to be upheld, and it just seems designed to scare more coal-fired power plants into retirement – the goal of the Biden administration,” he said.