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Biden EPA’s New Rules for Fossil Fuel-Powered Plants Met With Mixed Response

The rules limit emissions from existing coal and new gas-powered plants, but existing gas-powered plants are excluded.

The AES Corporation 495-megawatt Alamitos natural gas-fired power station stands in Long Beach, California, on October 1, 2009.

President Joe Biden’s Environmental Protection Agency announced a final quartet of rules on Thursday to limit climate-warming emissions from existing coal and new gas-powered plants, as well as reduce mercury, wastewater, and coal ash pollution from coal facilities.

While several environmental groups and climate advocates praised the new rules, others pointed out that they still exclude emissions from existing gas-powered plants, which are currently the nation’s leading source of electricity. A rule on these plants has been pushed into the future, likely until after the November election, which means they may not be regulated for years if pro-fossil fuel Republican Donald Trump retakes the White House.

“We don’t have time for this half-assed BS, EPA!” Genevieve Guenther, founding director of End Climate Silence, wrote on social media. “Later is too late.”

The carbon dioxide rule is the first federal rule to limit climate pollution from currently running coal plants, according to The Associated Press. It mandates that coal plants that intend to operate past 2039 and new gas-powered plants must cut their carbon dioxide emissions by 90% by that date. The EPA calculates that this would cut CO2 emissions by 1.38 billion metric tons by 2047, which is equal to taking 328 million gas-powered cars off the road or cancelling power sector emissions for almost a year. By the same date, it would cost the industry $19 billion to comply, but generate a net $370 billion in economic benefits due to reduced costs from healthcare and extreme weather. It would also prevent as many as 1,200 early deaths and 1,900 new asthma cases in 2035 alone.

The effect of the rule would be to force coal plants to either cease operations or find a way to remove their emissions with carbon, capture, and storage technology, according to the AP.

“The EPA’s new rulemaking once again claims that carbon capture is an effective means of reducing climate pollution, even though it has never worked in the real world,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “The Biden administration must take aggressive actions outside of this rulemaking to rein in fossil fuels — primarily by using existing federal authority to halt new drilling and fracking, and stop new fossil fuel infrastructure like power plants, pipelines, and export terminals. Pretending that carbon capture can dramatically reduce climate pollution is nothing but a dangerous fantasy.”

The New York Times reported that the rules “could deliver a death blow” to coal, which has already declined from producing 52% of U.S. electricity in 1990 to 16.2% in 2023.

“EPA’s new carbon standards for coal-fired power plants, coupled with parallel rulemakings cracking down on mercury and air toxics, coal ash, and toxic power plant wastewater discharge, rightly force the hand of all coal plants that remain: clean up or make an exit plan,” Julie McNamara, a senior analyst and deputy policy director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ (UCS) Climate and Energy Program, said in a statement.

Sunrise Movement communications director Stevie O’Hanlon called the regulations a “game-changer.”

“These regulations are the kind of bold action that young people have been fighting for,” O’Hanlon added. “President Biden must continue moving us toward ending the fossil fuel era: It’s what science demands and what young people want to see from him.”

The Biden administration has promised to eliminate power sector emissions by 2035; the new regulations, along with the Inflation Reduction Act, put the U.S. on course to slash those emissions by 75% by that date, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“The age of unbridled climate pollution from power plants is over,” NRDC president and CEO Manish Bapna said in a statement. “These standards cut carbon emissions, at last, from the single largest industrial source. They fit hand-in-glove with the clean energy incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act to make sure we cut our carbon footprint. They will reduce other dangerous pollutants that foul the air we breathe and threaten our health.”

Beyond fossil fuel control, the other three rules would strengthen toxic metals standards by 67% and mercury standards by 70%, cut coal wastewater pollution by more than 660 million pounds per year, and establish for the first time regulations on the disposal of coal ash in certain areas.

“The suite of power plant rules announced by EPA Administrator Regan represents a significant step forward in the fight for ambitious climate action and environmental justice,” Chitra Kumar, the managing director of UCS’ Climate and Energy Program, said in a statement. “Together, these rules help address a long-standing legacy of public health and environmental harms stemming from coal-fired power plants that scientific studies show have disproportionately hurt communities of color and low-income communities.”

However, the groups also said the administration must move to regulate existing gas plants.

UCS’ McNamara said that “as critical as these carbon rules are, the agency’s job is not yet done.”

“EPA must tackle carbon emissions from existing gas-fired power plants—soon to be the largest source of power sector carbon emissions—and it must look beyond carbon to reckon with the full suite of health-harming pollution these plants disproportionately and inequitably force on the communities that surround them,” McNamara added. “When all the heavy costs of fossil fuel-fired power plants are tallied, it’s unequivocally clear that clean energy presents the just and necessary path ahead.”

NRDC’s Bapna agreed, saying, “Existing gas-fired power plants are massive carbon emitters. They kick out other dangerous pollution that most hurts low-income communities and people of color. The EPA must cut all of that pollution—and soon—in a way that confronts the climate crisis and protects frontline communities.”

At the same time, climate campaigners are already mobilizing to defend the new rules from Republican lawmakers who want to reverse them. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said she would introduce a Congressional Review Act resolution to “overturn the EPA’s job-killing regulations announced today.”

“Congressional Republicans are already parroting the oil and gas lobby’s talking points criticizing the rules,” Sunrise’s O’Hanlon said. “They’re making clear whose side they are on. They’d rather please the oil and gas CEOs who back their campaign than save tens of thousands of lives.”

“The regulations are clear eyed about the science: To stop the climate crisis and save lives, we must move off fossil fuels,” O’Hanlon continued. “Biden can keep building trust with young people by declaring a climate emergency and rejecting new fossil fuel projects in the coming months.”

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