EPA outlines how it will regulate power plants after Supreme Court setback

WASHINGTON — Following the Supreme Court’s decision historic decision last week, limiting the government’s ability to limit the polluti...


WASHINGTON — Following the Supreme Court’s decision historic decision last week, limiting the government’s ability to limit the pollution that causes global warming, the Biden administration plans to use other regulatory tools in hopes of achieving similar goals.

A key part of the plan: to further limit other pollutants emitted by coal-fired power plants, such as soot, mercury and nitrogen oxides, a measure that will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“While the Court has sided with special interests trying to roll the country back, that hasn’t stopped the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases and protecting people from pollution,” he said. White House climate change adviser Gina McCarthy said in a statement, referring to the Federal Environmental Protection Agency.

White House officials have said they believe President Biden’s goal of roughly halving emissions by the end of this decade and completely eliminating fossil fuel emissions from the electricity sector by 2035, always remains within reach. Lowering the cost of renewables like wind and solar will help, administration officials said, along with a growing number of policies at national and local levels to combat climate changeas well as new EPA regulations.

Still, the federal government’s piecemeal approach, which is still taking shape, could make it harder to achieve its goals, many observers said. Power plants that burn fossil fuels are one of the biggest contributors of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, which is rapidly warming the planet.

The Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision, which found the EPA lacked the power to transform the nation’s electrical system away from fossil fuels, left the Biden administration deprived of a powerful tool, said energy experts. The ruling did not strip the EPA of its power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, but it only authorized narrower policies to regulate the operation of individual power plants.

That means the administration’s backup strategies are unlikely to spur a rapid metamorphosis to clean energy unless the administration acts quickly and aggressively, the experts said. “This year and early next year are critically important to whether the goals the administration has set for itself – both for the electricity sector and for the economy as a whole – will be achievable. “said John Larsen, a partner at Rhodium Group, an energy research and consulting firm.

Mr. Larsen said the Biden administration will need to adopt “layers and layers” of new policies rather than relying on one sweeping program. And, he added, “they have to move quickly to get those wheels turning.”

In an interview this week, Joseph Goffman, President Biden’s nominee for EPA air chief, said the agency intended to release draft regulations early next year. that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from existing coal-fired power plants. The EPA around the same time will also release proposed regulations to reduce emissions from new gas-fired power plants, he said.

Goffman declined to discuss specifics of what either plan might include, but said the EPA had “put together a menu of three or four different approaches” that would fit within the mandate of the Supreme Court.

Mr. Goffman said the EPA is still analyzing the Supreme Court’s decision, but said it does not appear to affect the agency’s current strategy. “The case didn’t take anything away from the menu we’ve been focusing on,” he said.

He said the administration’s climate goals can be met, but it will take more action across government, not just through the EPA. “We were never going to get there other than through a set of policies,” Mr. Goffman said.

The EPA is also enacting tougher restrictions on coal-fired power plants to reduce pollutants like soot and nitrogen oxides, and to force cleanup of water contamination from coal-fired power plants. Michael S. Regan, the EPA Administrator, said these and other rules will have the side benefit of also reducing greenhouse gas emissions. He also said rule changes such as these could make some coal-fired power stations too expensive to continue operating, leading to more of them shutting down.

“By presenting all of these rules at once to industry, industry has the opportunity to look at this set of rules at once and say, ‘Is it worth doubling up on investment in this current facility? Or should we look at this cost and say now it’s time to pivot and invest in a clean energy future?” Regan told an oil and gas conference in march.

“If some of these facilities decide it’s not worth investing in and you get an accelerated retirement, that’s the best tool to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.

Coal provides about 21% electricity in the United States, but represents more than half of all carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation, making it one of the dirtiest fossil fuels. According to the Energy Information Administration, about 28% of coal-fired capacity is expected to be retired by 2035, a change that has been largely driven by the fact that gas-fired power plants have become cheaper to operate, as have renewables. renewable. .

A person familiar with the Biden administration’s approach said the White House believes it can cut economy-wide emissions up to 40% below 2005 levels by the end of this decade. tightening regulations on traditional pollutants like mercury, acid gases and particulates. This would bring the country closer to Mr Biden’s goal of reducing emissions by at least 50% from 2005 levels in the same time frame, said the person, who was not authorized to speak publicly about management strategy.

Environmental activists said they were unsure of the Biden administration’s commitment.

“What we’re seeing right now is the Biden administration not acting with the urgency needed,” said Weston Gobar, spokesperson for the Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of social justice groups and black-led environments. He called on Mr. Biden to declare a “climate emergency” under the National Emergencies Act to rapidly develop clean energy resources, and to urge Congress to suspend the filibuster to pass climate change bills. climate.

He praised the EPA’s emerging strategy, noting that the bulk of pollution from power plants disproportionately affects communities of color. But, he says, “it’s not enough”.

Meanwhile, when it comes to directly regulating greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, several experts said the EPA could call for blending relatively cleaner fuels, like gas or hydrogen. , to reduce emissions, as well as other technological solutions, such as capturing carbon dioxide from power plants before the emissions enter the atmosphere.

Michelle Bloodworth, chief executive of America’s Power, a coal industry group, said an aggressive program leading to more coal plant retirements would hurt the reliability of the power grid.

“Power grid officials have issued warnings about the prospect of power shortages and blackouts in many parts of the country, and more coal withdrawals would only make the situation worse,” Ms Bloodworth said in a statement. . She noted that more than 40% of the country’s coal fleet has already announced its intention to close.

Yet eliminating emissions from these plants or pushing power plants to switch to cleaner fuels is also key to keeping rising global temperatures to relatively safe levels. Also key is how the EPA proposes to regulate emissions from more than 90 gigawatts of new gas-fired power plants that are planned, said Leah Stokes, professor of environmental policy at the University of Santa Barbara in California.

“It’s going to be hugely consequential for the planet,” Ms Stokes said. “If we don’t have a plan for new gas plants, we won’t meet President Biden’s goals.”

Jeffrey Holmstead, an energy lawyer who served at the EPA in both Bush administrations, said the utility companies he works with believe new regulations on their power plants are a “show” compared to to the emission reductions that could be achieved if Congress approved billions of dollars. dollars in tax credits for wind, solar and battery storage. This package is still being negotiated in Congress because of objections from Senator Joe Manchin IIIDemocrat of West Virginia, whose vote is essential in the equally divided Senate.

“It will be interesting to see how aggressively the administration moves to regulate CO2 emissions,” Mr. Holmstead said. “What’s unclear is how much of a priority this will be for the agency.”

Scientists say that if warming exceeds 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the likelihood of catastrophic consequences of climate change – worsening heat waves and droughts, intensification of storms and other crises – increases dramatically. The planet has already warmed by around 1.1 degrees Celsius on average and global emissions continue to rise.

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Newsrust - US Top News: EPA outlines how it will regulate power plants after Supreme Court setback
EPA outlines how it will regulate power plants after Supreme Court setback
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