Photo 6418789 © Michael Blackstock |
Coal fired power plant.

Industry Stakeholders Challenge EPA's Power Plant Rule

May 21, 2024

The recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) power plant rule has sparked intense debate and concern among industry stakeholders, leading to a lawsuit filed by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) challenging the rule. On May 13, the NRECA filed a motion to stay the EPA’s power plant rule in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, supported by several declarations from generation and transmission cooperatives.

What You Need to Know About the EPA’s New Rules

On May 11, the EPA proposed new carbon pollution standards for coal and natural gas-fired power plants. The proposal for coal and new natural gas power plants aims to avoid up to 617 million metric tons of total carbon dioxide (CO2) through 2042. These proposals would also cut tens of thousands of tons of particulate matter (PM2.5), sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and harmful air pollutants.

Additionally, the agency announced tougher rules for the neurotoxin mercury emitted from power plant smokestacks and will require safer disposal of toxic wastewater and coal ash, which are byproducts of making electricity.

The rule, expected to go into effect in 2030, allows power plants to use carbon capture to reduce their emissions while continuing to burn fossil fuels. In addition to the new standards, power plants will have to install continuous monitoring systems for emissions of mercury and other toxic pollutants like arsenic, chromium, cobalt, and nickel.

Financial Impact on Consumers

CEO of NRECA Jim Matheson commented on the motion to stay the rule, stating, “In our opinion this is the wrong time. This is a flawed rule. We think it's particularly flawed in terms of timing in terms of where we are. In our in our energy journey as a country, we think this is unlawful because we think it violates the law. It extends EPA's authority beyond where Congress is allowed in the Clean Air Act and disregards previous Supreme Court rule.”

Matheson explained the main reason for filing a motion to stay is because of the “immediate and irreparable harm” that it would cause.

“We have multiple members across the country that face not only massive costs if they could implement this, but also requirement use of technology that's simply not ready,” he said. “No power plant has ever achieved 90% reduction in carbon with carbon capture sequestration, so it has not been proven at commercial scale.”

Commenting on the unique consumer-owned model of electric cooperatives, Matheson said, "Every impact of the financial nature on electric cooperatives goes directly to our consumer."

Impact on Electrification:

Matheson said industrial electric demand is increasing and it’s facilitating the return of manufacturing to the U.S., but current policies are pushing away from reliable power sources towards intermittent ones; potentially leading to premature closures of still-useful generators.

“There's huge environmental benefits to electrify the rest of our economy,” he said. “…Industrial electric demand is increasing for the first time in 30 years in this country. We see data centers and artificial intelligence creating significant new demands for electricity and that's all good for this country to have a growing economy. But we've got to recognize that we got to have the ability to keep the lights on with all that extra demand and our policy world is driving us in a different direction, driving us away from always available, reliable generating sources to more intermittent resources.”

Matheson continued, “Encouraging the premature shutdown of generating resources that have useful life left in them ... that's what this rule and other policies coming out the EPA are doing and it doesn't make sense.”

Challenges of Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) Technology:

CEO of Minnkota Power Cooperative Mac McLennan said there are several challenges in implementing carbon capture sequestration (CCS) technology. He stressed the importance of maintaining reliability, especially during extreme weather conditions and expressed skepticism about the feasibility of the EPA's proposed rule, citing concerns about unproven technology and unrealistic timelines.

"As we look at what EPA has proposed today, they're making a tremendous number of assumptions about what is the capability and capacity to be able to fundamentally capture CO2,” he said.

Matheson also argued that the rule is unachievable, mandating the widespread adoption of CCS technology that is promising but not yet ready for application across the country, “We also think the rule is unrealistic in terms of the timelines associated with this type of transition that it would call for,” he said.

Importance of Realistic Timelines and Comprehensive Approach:

The EPA's power plant rule presents significant challenges that require careful consideration and practical solutions.

"We just need time to do it," CEO of East Kentucky Power Cooperative Tony Campbell pleaded, urging policymakers to consider the broader implications on reliability and affordability.

"They underscored the need for realistic timelines, technological advancements, and a comprehensive approach that balances environmental goals with grid reliability and affordability,” Matheson said “…US energy policy needs to take a step back and recognize the reliability threat we have in this country and this rule is a step in the wrong direction.”

Campbell said there is a responsibility to deliver reliable, affordable and safe power to the end consumer.

“Electricity is no longer a luxury in our country, it's a necessity. If we go down a path to where reliability suffers, it will initially suffer on the hottest days of the summer, or the coldest days of the winter and the end consumer is going to suffer from these rules if we don't supply the power,” he said. “And unfortunately, I think there are a lot of people that depend on power for health and well-being, and you could have a loss of life. So, all we're asking is, hey, we know we’ve got to get there. Let's take our time. Let's prove the technology and find solutions because we have a lot of smart people in this country.”

About the Author

Christina Marsh

Christina Marsh is senior editor of T&D World at Endeavor Business Media (EBM), responsible for managing, editing, and contributing to the print issue production in addition to e-newsletters and digital content including podcasts. Previously, Christina was editor of Airport Business at EBM where she was responsible for contributing editorial support for the magazine, writing and compiling e-newsletters as well as contributing to digital content including producing video and podcasts. Before working with EBM, Christina was a multimedia journalist and podcast producer at The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA). She graduated with a B.S. in journalism from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. 

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