On Thursday, the Biden administration announced the first regulations to reduce greenhouse pollution from existing power plants, ending an unparalleled string of climate policies that could dramatically reduce the country’s contribution to global warming.
The proposals are designed to effectively eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from the country’s electricity sector by 2040.
Regulations governing power plants come on the heels of other Biden administration plans Reducing tailpipe emissions by accelerating the country’s transition to electric vehiclesl curbing methane leakage From oil and gas wells and the gradual cessation of the use of a chemical that warms the planet in refrigerants. Together with the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which pumps more than $370 billion into clean energy programs, these measures will push the United States to the forefront of the fight to curb global warming.
“We are in the critical decade of climate action, and the president has been clear about his goals in this area, and we will meet them,” Ali Zaidi, Mr. Biden’s senior climate adviser, said on a conference call with reporters Wednesday.
The government does not mandate the use of equipment to capture carbon emissions before they leave the stack, which is a new and expensive technology. Instead, it sets limits on pollution rates, which power plant operators are required to meet. They could do that with a different technology or, in the case of gas stations, switch to a fuel source like green hydrogen, which doesn’t emit carbon.
The country’s 3,400 coal and gas-fired power plants currently generate about 25 percent of the greenhouse gases the United States produces, pollution that is dangerously warming the planet.
The plan is sure to face opposition from the fossil fuel industry, power plant operators and their allies in Congress. It would likely spark an immediate legal challenge from a group of Republican attorneys general who have already sued the Biden administration to halt other climate policies. Future management could weaken the regulation.
“This proposal will further strain America’s electrical grid and undermine decades of work to reliably keep lights on across the country,” said Jim Matheson, president of the National Rural Electricity Cooperative, which operates power plants that serve the nation’s less developed communities.
Sen. Joe Manchin III, a West Virginia Democrat who has long fought any threat to the coal industry in his state, said Wednesday he would oppose all Biden EPA nominees unless the administration drops the regulation — a threat he carries through his teeth. The Senate is narrowly divided.
“This administration is determined to advance its radical climate agenda and has made it clear that it is intent on doing everything it can to regulate coal and gas fired power plants from existence, regardless of the cost of energy security and reliability,” said Mr. Manchin, who made millions of his family’s coal business. Mr. Manchin faces a tough reelection campaign next year that could pit him against Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican who has announced he will run for Senate in 2024. West Virginia has shifted increasingly to the right. Voters there supported Donald J. Trump over Biden by 39 points in 2020.
Michael S. Regan, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, which drafted the regulations, plans to announce them in a speech on the University of Maryland campus Thursday. EPA officials have chosen the university’s environment to appeal to young climate activists who they hope will help vote on Biden’s 2024 re-election campaign.
Many of those activists were critical of Mr. Biden after his decision in March to agree A massive oil exploration project on virgin federal land in Alaska, better known as willow. They view the president’s actions as a betrayal of his 2020 campaign promise to stop drilling for oil and gas on public lands.
The White House argues that the collective impact of Mr. Biden’s climate regulations and legislation, in terms of reducing emissions, outweighs any environmental damage that might result from Project Willow.
According to the White House, burning oil drilled at the Willow site will emit an estimated 280 million tons of planet-warming carbon dioxide. New rules for power plants will reduce emissions by 617 million tons between 2028 and 2042, according to the EPA. Adding other proposed EPA regulations would bring the total amount of emissions eliminated to 15 billion tons by 2055 — roughly the amount of pollution produced by the entire US economy over a three-year period. Many analyzes predicted that the inflation-reducing law would reduce emissions by at least one percent Another billion tons by 2030.
That could put the nation on track to make good on Mr. Biden’s pledge that the US would cut greenhouse gases in half by 2030 and stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere altogether by 2050, though analysts note more will have to be enacted. policies. to reach the last goal.
This is the measure required of all major industrialized countries, scientists say, to keep average global temperatures from increasing by 1.5°C (2.7°F), compared to pre-industrial levels. After this point, the effects of catastrophic heat waves, floods, droughts, crop failures, and species extinctions will become much more difficult for humanity to deal with. The planet has already warmed by an average of 1.1°C.
said Dallas Pertro, economist at Resources for the Future, a nonpartisan think tank focused on energy and environmental policy.
EPA officials say the proposed regulations are designed to provide flexibility to the industry and ensure the lights stay on and electricity bills don’t go up. For example, coal plants that are already scheduled to retire before 2032 may not have to install new pollution controls such as carbon capture technology. About a quarter of the operating power plants are coal-fired He is already scheduled to retire by 2029According to the Energy Information Administration.
While the proposed rules would increase costs for power plant operators, the EPA estimates that reducing pollution from smokestacks would produce a net economic benefit of up to $85 billion by 2042 through improved public health from lower levels of soot and dioxide. Sulfur, which is also emitted by coal-fired power plants.
By 2030, the proposed standards would prevent about 1,300 premature deaths, more than 800 hospital and emergency room visits, more than 300,000 asthma attacks, 38,000 school absences and 66,000 lost work days, according to the EPA.
In some ways, the EPA regulation is designed to accelerate changes already underway in the energy industry.
Coal, the dirtiest of all fossil fuels, is deteriorating—no new coal plants have been built in the United States in the past decade. In the same time frame, the cost of wind and solar power has fallen sharply, and electricity generation from wind turbines and solar panels has plummeted more than tripled. Wind now generates more than 10 percent of the country’s electricity, and Solar energy now generates about 3 percent And it grows rapidly. As a result, global warming pollution from power plant chimneys has occurred by 25 percent In the past decade, in the absence of any direct regulation.
In recent years, many electric utilities have announced goals to stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by 2045 or 2050.
“Our emissions continue to decline as a sector, and we expect that to continue regardless of the rule,” said Emily Fisher, executive vice president of clean energy and general counsel at the Edison Electric Institute. of electrical utilities owned by investors.
Attorneys and lobbyists at the Edison Electric Institute have met with EPA officials no fewer than twenty times over the past two years to discuss climate law and other power plant regulations.
But some lobbyists say that despite this input, the new rules will push the industry to do more than it can accomplish.
“There’s a lot of panic that these targets are being done as quickly as possible,” said Jeffrey Holmstead, an attorney who represents fossil fuel companies and electric utilities with Bracewell LLP. “If the idea is to move forward faster than that, companies have real concerns.” “.
Electric utilities have complained about the new clean air regulations for decades, but were eventually able to comply, said Lisa Lynch, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group. “The industry always claims that it is impossible to meet, costs a lot of money, and threatens reliability and economy,” she said of the regulations. “Ultimately, they continue to innovate and comply, often well in advance of deadlines.”
Almost a decade ago, Biden’s predecessor, President Barack Obama, tried to regulate emissions from power plants. His administration wrote broad and ambitious rules designed to replace coal-fired plants with wind farms and solar panels.
This policy has not been implemented. It was first banned by the Supreme Court and later reversed by President Donald J. Trump.
Last summer, the Supreme Court confirmed that the EPA has the authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, but in a limited way.
Biden administration officials involved with the new power plant base — many of whom worked under the defunct Obama administration — have sought to ensure it faces scrutiny this time around.
“In light of what the Supreme Court has ruled, they’re not swinging their heels,” said Richard Lazarus, a professor of environmental law at Harvard Law School. “They swing for the hit.”