EPA: New Pollution Limits Proposed for U.S. Gas Power Plants, Coal Reflect Urgency of Climate Crisis

Thursday, the Biden administration proposed new limits on greenhouse gas emissions from gas- and coal-fired power plants, its most ambitious move yet to roll back pollution from the nation’s second-largest contributor. The Environmental Protection Agency announced a rule that could force power plants to capture smokestack emissions using technology not used widely but long promised in the United States. 

“This administration is committed to meeting the urgency of the climate crisis and taking the necessary actions required,” said Michael Regan, EPA Administrator. 

According to Regan in a speech at the University of Maryland, the plan would not only improve air quality nationwide and bring substantial health benefits to communities all across the country, especially our front-line communities that have unjustly borne the burden of pollution for decades.

President Biden said the plan was a major step forward in the climate crisis and protecting public health. If the proposed regulation is finalized, it will mark the first time the federal government has restricted carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. The plants generate about 25% of greenhouse gas pollution in the U.S. The EPA said the rule would also apply to future electric plants and avoid as much as 617 million metric tons of carbon dioxide through 2024. 

The EPA said that large, frequently used gas-fired plants and almost all coal plants would have to capture or cut most of their carbon dioxide emissions by 2038. Plants that don’t meet the new standards would be forced to close.

EPA plan is likely to be challenged

The plan is likely to be challenged by GOP-leaning states and industry groups. They have accused the Democrat administration of government overreach and warn of a possible reliability crisis for the electric grid. The rule for power plants is one of at least a half-dozen EPA rules that limit wastewater and power plant treatment. 

Regan denied the rule on power plants was aimed at scuttling 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 practices in the industry that are already underway in a move toward clean energy, said Regan.

Coal provides around 20% of electricity in the United States, down from 45% in 2010. Forty percent of U.S. electricity is supplied by natural gas. The remainder comes from renewables, including solar, wind, hydropower, and nuclear energy.

Environmental groups said the EPA’s action is needed urgently to protect against climate change and its harms, including increasing hurricanes, drought, severe flooding, and worsening wildfires. The proposal “will bring us closer to a clean energy future with healthier air, a safer climate, good jobs, and affordable, reliable electricity,” said the president of the Environmental Defense Fund, Fred Krupp. 

Conversely, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association CEO, Jim Matheson, 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’s association represents 900 local electric cooperatives countrywide. He maintains the EPA’s play could force critical, always-available power plants into early retirement and make new natural gas plants exceedingly difficult to permit, site, and build.