Biden’s Proposed Power Plant Rule is a Solid First Step
On May 23, the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) proposed emission limits and guidelines for carbon dioxide from fossil fuel-powered plants. To avoid the identical fate because the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan, which was struck down by the conservative Supreme Court in West Virginia v. EPA last yr, the brand new draft rule doesn’t determine emission limits based on “generation shifting,” or the closure of fossil fuel-powered plants in favor of cleaner sources of electricity. As my colleagues and I actually have explained, generation shifting is an atypical consequence of pollution-control rules and is the simplest, most cost-effective, and best technique to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel-powered plants. But in an effort to skirt legal challenges, the brand new rule bases its limits largely on carbon capture and sequestration (“CCS”) and hydrogen co-firing such that individual power plants are capable of proceed operation in the event that they adopt the suitable control technologies. That doesn’t mean, nevertheless, that states and utilities are similarly constrained from generation shifting as they develop ways to comply with the federal regulations.
Still, the incontrovertible fact that this draft rule follows the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (“IRA”) has enabled the EPA to be relatively stringent. The Clean Air Act requires that the EPA’s emission limits be based on the best system of emission reduction adequately demonstrated and accounting for cost, amongst other things. The IRA has made tax credits for CCS more accessible and generous, bolstering EPA’s case that the technology is sufficiently demonstrated and cost-effective. Finding that the most effective system of emission reduction is CCS (and hydrogen co-firing) quite than the next-best option allows the EPA to require certain kinds of power plants to scale back carbon dioxide emissions by 90 percent over quite a lot of years. The most important exception is for those plants that decide to run only part-time, so-called “peaker plants” that activate when electricity demand is simply too high for the grid.
The draft rule has, after all, already encountered criticism. Along with those arguing about feasibility and price, environmental justice groups have also voiced hesitation in regards to the two latest technologies. Most existing fossil fuel-powered plants have been sited in environmental justice communities which have historically borne the brunt of emission burdens; although these technologies will reduce carbon dioxide emissions within the long-term, they will even enable plants to proceed operating in these neighborhoods. While carbon dioxide itself doesn’t have reported health impacts, other pollutants from these plants—sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, particulate pollution and mercury from coal and nitrogen oxides from gas—do. Fenceline communities will proceed to face harmful health impacts from this pollution, even when greenhouse gas emissions decline over time.
Environmental justice advocates have also characterised CCS and hydrogen co-firing as unproven technologies; EPA highlights the present use of CCS on the Boundary Dam coal-powered plant in Saskatchewan, Canada specifically for instance the technology’s viability, although its use will not be widespread. While latest technology that has not been widely adopted can still meet statutory criteria under the Clean Air Act, the EPA bears a responsibility to proceed to have interaction with environmental justice communities, which have historically been ignored by regulators. Because the rule is in its draft stages, ongoing outreach to and involvement by environmental justice communities may result in necessary modifications.
With regards generation shifting, states can have greater latitude than the federal government to force dirty power plants to shut. States ultimately get a good amount of discretion to find out methods to meet federal targets for existing sources of pollution—and that features existing power plants. For instance, California will likely proceed regulating the facility sector through its cap-and-trade program (although cap-and-trade has had its own rocky relationship with environmental justice groups). States can have several years to arrange their implementation plans to satisfy these federal targets, and advocates can and may champion solutions that the most-affected communities would favor.
What states cannot do is fail to satisfy the federal targets entirely, which is why the stringency of the draft rule is so critical to making sure the whole county rapidly decarbonizes. And with that in mind, the draft rule is sort of as stringent because it must be, while staying inside the boundaries set by West Virginia v. EPA. But like all draft rule, the brand new proposal will be improved and public comment is open until August 8th. Amongst already submitted comments are helpful ways the EPA can increase the stringency of the regulation. The Recent York State Attorney General’s Office, for instance, submitted testimony urging the EPA to (1) speed up coal-fired power plant retirement, only allowing those truly crucial for grid reliability to develop into peaker plants and (2) lower the emission limits for gas-fired power plants to further reduce pollution. The EPA can also consider implementing faster timelines generally to account for the drastic motion climate change demands.
And even with its hands tied by the Supreme Court, the Biden Administration still has avenues to scale back co-pollutant emissions outside of this rulemaking. The EPA can, and must, individually regulate co-pollutants with dangerous local health effects. In truth, the EPA has proposed a review of NOx emission standards for gas plants in response to litigation by the Environmental Defense Fund and the Sierra Club. The EPA should be sure that standards for other pollutants are up-to-date to safeguard communities in states that selected to depend on CCS and hydrogen co-firing quite than closures of fossil fuel-powered plants.
Ultimately, the draft rule is a definitive step towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating the impacts of climate change. The electrical power sector stays about 30 percent of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions, and this rule can proceed to incentivize the push towards renewables that has occurred even within the absence of federal regulations. And this shift away from fossil fuels advantages us all; the climate crisis has brought increased health and safety risks to everyone, but particularly to vulnerable individuals and communities. This draft rule with stringent emission limits that’s nevertheless poised to face up to legal challenges is due to this fact critical to making sure a safer, cleaner, healthier future.