Carbon dioxide from coal and gas power plants would be reduced under new rules : NPR
Coal- and gas-fired power plants would have to eliminate nearly all of their climate-warming carbon dioxide emissions in just over a decade, according to proposed regulations released today by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The owners of those plants have been allowed to spew climate-warming carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere for more than a century. If these proposed regulations are finalized, they will be close to stopping that practice.
“EPA’s proposed rule sends an unequivocal signal to US power plant operators: the era of unlimited carbon pollution is over,” wrote Dan Lashof, US Director at the World Institute of Resources, in a statement that responded to the proposal.
The regulations are based on technologies that capture and then store deep underground 90% of the carbon dioxide from coal and gas fired plants. But some facilities that plan to close in the coming years or that operate at less than 20% of their capacity will be subject to less stringent requirements. Those could include adding cleaner hydrogen to natural gas to limit its climate-warming effects.
Environmental groups welcomed the rules, which will almost certainly face opposition and a legal challenge from the fossil fuel industry and its allies.
“EPA’s proposal relies on proven and readily available technologies to limit carbon pollution and seize the momentum already underway in the energy sector to move toward a cleaner future,” said Administrator EPA Michael Regan.
The EPA projects that the rules will avoid up to 617 million metric tons of carbon dioxide by 2042. The agency says this is equivalent to the annual emissions of 137 million passenger vehicles, or about half the cars on the road today.
Regan says the regulation also brings health benefits by reducing other air pollutants, such as particulate matter, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. The EPA projects that in 2030, the proposed rules would prevent 1,300 premature deaths, more than 800 hospital and emergency room visits and more than 300,000 cases of asthma attacks. While the rules may increase electricity prices by a “negligible” amount, the agency estimates the net climate and health benefits to be up to $85 billion.
The regulations also help the United States meet its obligations under the 2015 Paris climate accord, and will be crucial to meeting President Biden. a goal of carbon pollution from the electricity sector by 2035.
Climate regulation almost ten years in the making
Power plants are the second largest source of climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions in the country, according to the EPAafter transportation.
The proposed new rules help the country get closer to the Biden administration’s goal of reducing greenhouse gases 50 to 52% by 2030, based on 2005 emissions. Other initiatives to achieve that goal include rules that will require more cars to be electric, stricter energy efficiency standards for appliances and converting buildings from gas to electricity.
According to the Supreme Court landmark of 2007 Massachusetts v. EPA decision, the EPA is required to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.
In 2014 the Obama administration proposed His “Clean Power Plan” aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 32%, from 2005 levels, by 2030. That plan faced legal challenges and never went into effect. Still the country he achieved that goal well before 2030, as coal-fired power plants have been replaced by natural gas plants that emit less climate pollution than coal. Despite rapid growth of climate-friendly wind and solar power, approx 60% of the country’s electricity it still comes from fossil fuels.
President Biden entered office with the most ambitious plan to address climate change of any major-party candidate in US history, with the goal of getting the country to stop increasing carbon dioxide -carbon in the atmosphere by 2050.
Scientists say this is necessary to limit warming to 1.5 Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels and avoid the worst effects of climate change. Global average temperatures have already risen by around 1.1 degrees Celsius.
The new EPA rules were shaped by legal battles. Last year, the Supreme Court limited the agency’s options to regulate power plant emissions. The Justices said that without a specific law, the agency cannot force the entire power generation industry to move away from fossil fuels to less polluting energy sources.
“It told the EPA some things it couldn’t do, but it also told the EPA the way is open, under the law,” says David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The proposed rules set emissions limits for power plants and then let power plant owners decide how they will meet the requirements, which could include shutting down their facility. The EPA concludes technologies, such as carbon capture and storage, that were too expensive in the past are now more affordable, especially with tax credits available under the Inflation Reduction Act focused on the climate that passed last year.
Still, the coal industry may have the most to lose under this proposal. There are currently 158 active coal power plants, according to the Sierra Club. Despite the EPA’s analysis, the National Mining Association says carbon capture technology is not yet “technically and economically fully demonstrated.” The organization called for a “carbon capture moonshot.”
The legal battle to come
Criticism from the coal industry and its allies came even before the proposed rules were announced, some of them from President Biden’s own party.
“This Administration is determined to advance its radical climate agenda and has made it clear that they are eager to do everything they can to regulate coal and gas-fired power plants that don’t exist ,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV. , in a statement issued by his office. Besides representing a state where coal remains big business, Manchin’s family own coal company. Manchin said he will oppose the Biden administration’s EPA nominees until the White House stops “their government overreach.”
Coal is still a major industry in West Virginia and preserving coal-fired electricity is a priority for many people there. State Regulators recently approved a $3 million monthly surcharge on customer bills to keep a coal plant from closing at the end of May. Customers will pay the subsidy even if the plant does not generate electricity, although it will keep the facility’s 146 employees on the payroll.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who is also candidate for governor, led a legal challenge from states that opposed the 2015 Clean Power Plan. He is expected to lead a similar legal challenge to these rules, once they are finalized next year.
The regulations may also face opposition from the natural gas industry, which has sought to preserve its role in electricity generation. The American Petroleum Institute, in comments submitted before the rule was released, urged “EPA to consider the essential role that gas-fired generators continue to play in complementing renewables,” and called for “significant compliance flexibility.”
Critics also argue that the regulations will force coal and gas-fired power plants to close and leave the grid vulnerable to blackouts. But EPA Administrator Regan says this issue has been considered. Recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Energy which is aimed at keeping the grid reliable and stable.
Even if the regulation survives an expected court challenge and goes into effect, a future administration could change it. In 2019 former President Trump replaced the Obama-era Clean Power Plan with his much weaker Affordable Clean Power rule. This means that these rules will likely become an issue in the upcoming 2024 presidential election campaign.