WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration proposed new limits Thursday on greenhouse gas emissions from coal- and gas-fired power plants, its most ambitious effort yet to roll back planet-warming pollution from the nation’s second-largest contributor to climate change.
A rule announced by the Environmental Protection Agency could force power plants to capture smokestack emissions using a technology that has long been promised but is not used widely in the United States.
"This administration is committed to meeting the urgency of the climate crisis and taking the necessary actions required,'' EPA Administrator Michael Regan said.
The new rule would “significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel-fired power plants, protecting health and protecting our planet,'' Regan said. The plan would not only “improve air quality nationwide, but it will bring substantial health benefits to communities all across the country, especially our frontline communities ... that have unjustly borne the burden of pollution for decades,'' Regan said in a speech at the University of Maryland.
If finalized, the proposed regulation would mark the first time the federal government has restricted carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants, which generate about 25% of U.S. greenhouse gas pollution, second only to the transportation sector. The rule also would apply to future electric plants and would avoid up to 617 million metric tons of carbon dioxide through 2042, equivalent to annual emissions of 137 million passenger vehicles, the EPA said.
Almost all coal plants — along with large, frequently used gas-fired power plants — would have to cut or capture nearly all their carbon dioxide emissions by 2038, the EPA said. Plants that cannot meet the new standards would be forced to retire.
The plan is likely to be challenged by industry groups and Republican-leaning states. They have accused the Democratic administration of overreach on environmental regulations and warn of a pending reliability crisis for the electric grid. The power plant rule is one of at least a half-dozen EPA rules limiting power plant emissions and wastewater treatment.
“It's truly an onslaught” of government regulation “designed to shut down the coal fleet prematurely,'' said Rich Nolan, president and CEO of the National Mining Association.
Regan denied that the power plant rule — or any other regulation — was aimed at shutting down the coal sector, but acknowledged, "We will see some coal retirements.”
The proposal “relies on proven, readily available technologies to limit carbon pollution” and builds on industry practices already underway to move toward clean energy, he said.
Coal provides about 20% of U.S. electricity, down from about 45% in 2010. Natural gas provides about 40% of U.S. electricity. The remainder comes from nuclear energy and renewables such as wind, solar and hydropower.
Environmental groups hailed EPA's action as urgently needed to protect against devastating harms of climate change, from increasingly severe flooding, hurricanes and drought to worsening wildfires.
Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, said the proposal “will bring us closer to a clean energy future with healthier air, a safer climate, good jobs and affordable, reliable electricity.”
But Jim Matheson, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, said the plan would further strain America’s electric grid and "undermine decades of work to reliably keep the lights on across the nation.''
Matheson, whose association represents 900 local electric cooperatives across the country, said EPA's plan could “force critical, always-available power plants into early retirement, and make new natural gas plants exceedingly difficult to permit, site and build.''
Tom Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute, which represents hundreds of investor-owned electric companies, said the group will assess whether the EPA's proposal aligns with its commitment to provide reliable, clean energy.