The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is issuing on Thursday a draft rule aimed at curbing planet-warming emissions from fossil-fired power plants that is expected to be a key piece of the Biden administration’s climate policy.
The proposal seeks to limit carbon dioxide from existing coal plants, as well as new natural gas-powered plants and some large existing gas plants.
They would be expected to cut 617 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from the air between 2028 and 2042. This is equal to reducing emissions from 137 million passenger cars, or about half of all cars in the U.S.
The rule would also be expected to cut other air pollution, preventing 1,300 premature deaths in the year 2030.
“In a strong and vigorous way this reinforces our trajectory in a critical sector of the economy — in the power sector — and we are moving even faster and with greater certainty in the direction of unlocking the economic upside and the public health gains associated with meeting the president’s climate targets,” National Climate Adviser Ali Zaidi told reporters on Wednesday.
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The power sector is responsible for a quarter of U.S. emissions. Cutting its contribution to climate change is expected to be a major factor not only in reducing emissions from the sector, but also from others like transportation as the administration also seeks to increasingly electrify cars.
The regulations are expected to prompt some coal plants to shut down, rather than choose to comply with the new regulations.
“We will see some coal retirements, but the way this program is designed, this is really a decision that will be made company-by-company and state-by-state,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan. “It gives a ton of flexibility so that the power sector can make individual decisions based on available technology and the resources that they want to expend.”
He also said that the impact on electricity prices is expected to be “negligible,” raising them 2 percent in 2030, 0.24 percent in 2035 and 0.08 percent in 2040.
The draft rule received pushback from Republicans like Sen. Shelley Moore Captito (R-W.Va.) who said she would seek to overturn the rule if it is finalized.
“The Clean Power Plan 2.0 announced today is the Biden administration’s most blatant attempt yet to close down power plants and kill American energy jobs,” Capito, the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a written statement.
“I plan to introduce a Congressional Review Act resolution of disapproval to protect workers and families from the disastrous impacts of these latest job-killing regulations,” she added.
Before the draft rule was released, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) also criticized it, saying in response that he would vote against any Biden nominees to the EPA.
On the other hand, some climate activists indicated that they believe the rule did not go far enough.
“We look forward to engaging in the comment process to ensure these standards swiftly achieve the necessary emissions reductions and that they cover more sources responsible for power sector carbon pollution—more gas power plants, in particular,” said a written statement from Lena Moffitt, executive director of Evergreen Action.
However, Moffitt also called the rule an “important step to tackle power sector climate pollution head-on.”
The emissions limits required under the rule are based on plants’ use of either technology that captures a plant’s carbon dioxide emissions, preventing them from going into the atmosphere and warming the planet or using hydrogen energy at the same plant alongside the fossil fuels.
While hydrogen energy itself does not produce emissions, instead creating water when used, it requires energy to produce. The EPA rule requires that this energy comes from a low-greenhouse gas source.
Neither technology is particularly common. The country’s only coal plant using carbon capture on a large scale shut down in 2020, according to The New York Times, while E&E News reports that there are not many power plants with major reliance on hydrogen.
President Biden, throughout his tenure, has called for reaching a carbon-free power sector by 2035. Though the draft rule projects ongoing emissions reductions beyond that date, Regan said he still thinks the president’s goal can be achieved under the rule.
“We believe that where we will end up will be squarely in line with the president’s goal of 100 percent by 2035,” Regan said. “This is one proposal in a suite of actions that are being taken by the entire government, so when it all adds up we feel very confident that we’re going to be there by 2035.”
The proposal is expected to result in an additional 22 gigawatts of coal power going offline between 2023 and 2035 when compared to a baseline. Coal plants can vary in capacity, though a majority in the U.S. have capacities between 0.25 and 0.75 gigawatts.
The tools at the EPA’s disposal for the power plant rule were clipped last year by the Supreme Court, which said that the agency can only set rules that apply to each power plant individually instead of trying to shift the power system as a whole toward more climate-friendly sources.