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Mixed Reaction to EPA's New Carbon Pollution Standards for Power Plants

May 11, 2023
As EPA works to finalize the rulemaking, the agency said it will complete additional advanced modeling, aligning methodologies across the rulemaking and considering real-world scenarios within the power sector.

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed new carbon pollution standards for coal and natural gas-fired power plants. The proposal for coal and new natural gas power plants would avoid up to 617 million metric tons of total carbon dioxide (CO2) through 2042, which is equivalent to reducing the annual emissions of 137 million passenger vehicles, roughly half the cars in the United States, according to the EPA. The proposals would also result in cutting tens of thousands of tons of particulate matter (PM2.5), sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide, harmful air pollutants.

The 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)

As EPA works to finalize the rulemaking, the agency will complete additional advanced modeling, 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.

The new rule will apply to some, but not all, existing natural gas power plants. It will also apply to any new natural gas plants as well as facilities that burn coal or oil. The rule, which is expected to go into effect in 2030, allows power plants to use carbon capture to reduce their emissions while continuing to burn fossil fuels. The Biden administration says tax credits under the Inflation Reduction Act will help reduce the cost of carbon capture technology, which up to this point has been seen as too expensive for wide-scale deployment, according to a report from ABC News.

The Supreme Court ruled last year that law went too far and exceeded EPA's authority by telling utilities they had to shift power generation away from fossil fuels. This is not the first time the federal government has attempted to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants but there are no current regulations in place. The centerpiece proposal from the Obama administration, the Clean Power Plan, never went into effect, ABC News reported.

Industry response has been mixed, at best.

EEI Assessing

The Edison Electric Institute (EEI) President Tom Kuhn today issued the following statement on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) proposed regulations for carbon emissions from fossil-based power plants.

“For the third time in nine years, EPA is proposing to limit carbon emissions from power plants using Clean Air Act section 111. Just as we do with any rulemaking, we will assess EPA’s proposed new regulations through the lens of whether they align with our priorities and support our ability to provide customers with the reliable clean energy they need at an affordable cost.

“While there have been many legal and technical ups and downs throughout this regulatory process, there also has been one constant—EEI’s member electric companies have remained focused on getting the energy they provide as clean as they can as fast as they can without compromising customer reliability and affordability. And, thanks to our members’ clean energy leadership, carbon emissions from the U.S. power sector are now as low as they were in 1984, while electricity use has climbed 73 percent since then.

“Over the past 18 months, we have engaged constructively with EPA and outlined several important priorities that are consistent with the ongoing clean energy transition that our member companies are leading.

“We focused our engagement on three key areas. 1) Alignment of compliance deadlines with existing transition plans. 2) Recognition of the critical role existing and new natural gas generation plays—and will continue to play—in integrating more renewable energy and maintaining reliability. 3) Inclusion of a range of compliance flexibilities and the industry’s commitment to developing and deploying critical clean energy technologies, including hydrogen and carbon capture and storage, when they are commercially available at scale and cost. 

'Unproven At Scale'

Devin Hartman, the director of the R Street Institute's energy and environmental program, released a statement that said the proposal would have "modest climate benefit and require costly technology that is unproven at scale," he said. "It is legally dubious and exacerbates grid reliability challenges. Similar regulatory approaches have failed, which underscores why Congress should set climate policy. Regulators should reduce barriers to developing power plants, which is what emissions reductions and grid reliability ultimately hinge upon."

Hartman has worked on grid reliability, transmission, and climate-related issues extensively, writing about matters like congressional oversight of the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission and transmission reform strategies designed from a customer perspective

'Could Leave America in the Dark'

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Environment, Manufacturing, & Critical Materials Subcommittee Chair Bill Johnson (R-OH) released the following statement rebuking President Biden’s new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed power plant rules, which they said could risk more blackouts and energy shortages for Americans. 

“President Biden’s rush-to-green agenda is shutting down American energy and threatening the security and reliability of our electric grid. We're currently witnessing an electricity reliability crisis unfolding across the country. We’ve seen recurring summer blackouts in California and the shuttering of reliable baseload power sources in the Midwest and New England, which have resulted in winter energy shortages.  The latest power plant rules being proposed by the EPA will make these problems worse by shutting down reliable energy sources prematurely and adding costly new burdens on sources like natural gas, which is responsible for a significant portion of our emissions reductions. The EPA must abandon these dangerous efforts to force an energy transition on Americans, which will jeopardize the reliability of our power grid and shut down American energy.” 

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