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Powering Down

EPA lays out new rules to curb power plant emissions, sparking backlash

On April 25, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a suite of final rules to reduce pollution from fossil fuel-fired power plants "in order to protect all communities from pollution and improve public health without disrupting the delivery of reliable electricity." These rules, finalized under separate authorities including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, purport to "significantly reduce climate, air, water, and land pollution from the power sector, delivering on the current administration's commitment to protect public health, advance environmental justice, and confront the climate crisis," per a lengthy April 25 news release from the EPA.

The climate and health benefits of this rule, the branch claims, will also "substantially outweigh the compliance costs." In 2035 alone, the EPA's regulatory impact analysis estimates substantial health co-benefits including:

  • Up to 1,200 avoided premature deaths

  • 870 avoided hospital and emergency room visits

  • 1,900 avoided cases of asthma onset

  • 360,000 avoided cases of asthma symptoms

  • 48,000 avoided school absence days

  • 57,000 lost workdays

By announcing these final rules at the same time, EPA is following through on the commitment that Administrator Michael S. Regan made to industry stakeholders at CERAWeek 2022 to provide regulatory certainty as the power sector makes long-term investments in the transition to a clean energy economy. The standards are designed to work with the power sector’s planning processes, providing compliance timelines that enable power companies to plan in advance to meet electricity demand while reducing dangerous pollution.

“Today, EPA is proud to make good on the Biden-Harris Administration’s vision to tackle climate change and to protect all communities from pollution in our air, water, and in our neighborhoods,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “By developing these standards in a clear, transparent, inclusive manner, EPA is cutting pollution while ensuring that power companies can make smart investments and continue to deliver reliable electricity for all Americans.”

“This year, the United States is projected to build more new electric generation capacity than we have in two decades – and 96 percent of that will be clean,” said President Biden’s National Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi. “President Biden’s leadership has not only sparked an unprecedented expansion in clean electricity generation, his leadership has also launched an American manufacturing renaissance. America is now a magnet for private investment, with hundreds of billions of dollars committed and 270,000 new clean energy jobs created. This is how we win the future, by harnessing new technologies to grow our economy, deliver environmental justice, and save the planet for future generations.”

The suite of final rules includes:

  • A final rule for existing coal-fired and new natural gas-fired power plants that would ensure that all coal-fired plants that plan to run in the long-term and all new baseload gas-fired plants control 90 percent of their carbon pollution.  

  • A final rule strengthening and updating the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) for coal-fired power plants, tightening the emissions standard for toxic metals by 67 percent and finalizing a 70 percent reduction in the emissions standard for mercury from existing lignite-fired sources. 

  • A final rule to reduce pollutants discharged through wastewater from coal-fired power plants by more than 660 million pounds per year, ensuring cleaner water for affected communities, including communities with environmental justice concerns that are disproportionately impacted.

  • A final rule that will require the safe management of coal ash that is placed in areas that were unregulated at the federal level until now, including at previously used disposal areas that may leak and contaminate groundwater.

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