Last Thursday, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced long overdue standards for regulating carbon pollution from power plants. Power production is the second largest source of climate pollution. As we begin to electrify other energy-intensive sources, like cars and transportation, it is critical we clean up our power sector. We must decarbonize the electric grid before the benefits of electric vehicles are fully realized.
The proposed standard would require coal plants to capture 90% of carbon emissions starting in 2030, and gas plants to capture 90% of emissions by 2035 or shut down and seek alternative energy sources. With many plants near retirement ages – and with robust incentives available in the Inflation Reduction Act for renewable energy – it is likely that utilities will opt to invest in decarbonized energy sources rather than make investments in carbon capture and storage.
Due to a Supreme Court ruling last year in the case West Virginia v. EPA that struck down the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, the EPA could not explicitly call for “power generation shifting” such as replacing coal with solar. It had to design a rule to withstand legal scrutiny. Past EPA regulations have relied on the principle of what is “technically feasible,” such as acid rain regulations relying on power plant scrubbers. While there are environmental justice concerns with leaving plants open with carbon capture technology, the rule will do more to clean up our air.
That being said, there is much more the EPA can do to strengthen this rule to protect vulnerable communities and address the climate crisis. To meet President Biden’s commitment to reach 100% clean electricity by 2035, the proposed implementation timeline must be accelerated before the rule is finalized. Allowing new gas plants to be built with no regulations before 2035 puts far too many climate-crisis-accelerating greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.
Additionally, the proposed standards allow thousands of part-time operating plants known as “peaker plants” to escape regulation altogether. These plants operate during times of peak demand and are often located in densely populated urban areas where more people are likely to suffer from pollution. Communities near these plants are disproportionately people of color and low-income. The EPA must close this loophole and regulate all fossil-fuel plants.
The EPA will soon place this rule in the Federal Register, triggering a 60-day public comment period. It will be essential that citizens make their voices heard on the need to strengthen these regulations. Voices ranging from children impacted by pollution to public health officials, scientists and lawmakers will be needed to build the support for a stronger carbon pollution rule.