Thu. May 23rd, 2024

Biden cracks down on power plants’ climate emissions, pollution

Samantha Parker By Samantha Parker May19,2024

The Biden administration on Thursday cracked down on planet-warming emissions and other pollution from power plants, aiming to make these power sources more environmentally friendly.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on Thursday it had finalized a suite of rules that aim to cut the plants’ pollution. 

One such rule, which regulates greenhouse gas emissions from existing coal and new gas plants, will require them to install technology that prevents 90 percent of their carbon emissions. 

It also finalized rules that aim to reduce coal plants’ releases of toxic substances like mercury into the air and pollution discharges into wastewater. 

A fourth agency rule issued Thursday tightens restrictions on the disposal of toxic coal waste, also known as coal ash, to prevent leaks that can contaminate groundwater. 

Alongside the EPA rules, the Energy Department announced that it will create a fast-track for environmental reviews for upgrading power lines and set a two-year timeline to speed approvals for new power lines. 

“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,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a written statement. 

He said that with the new rules, the agency is “cutting pollution while ensuring that power companies can make smart investments and continue to deliver reliable electricity for all Americans.”

The greenhouse gas emission rule

The most high-profile rule issued Thursday is the greenhouse gas restriction, which applies to both existing coal plants and newly constructed natural gas plants. 

Under the rule, these power plants are expected to have to capture 90 percent of their carbon dioxide emissions to prevent them from going into the atmosphere and heating the planet — or come up with another way to reach equivalent greenhouse gas emissions. 

When it proposed the rule last year, the administration also planned to make it apply to some existing natural gas power plants.

But it said in February that it will not be regulating existing gas-fired power plants at this time — and will instead regulate them through a separate rule at a later date. Gas plants produce fewer emissions than coal plants but are still significant contributors to climate change.

The Biden administration said that this rule alone is expected to prevent 1.38 billion metric tons of carbon emissions through 2047, the equivalent of taking 328 million gas-powered cars off the road for a year.

Combined with investments in climate-friendly power sources from the Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act, the rule could help bring the power sector’s carbon dioxide emissions down by 62 percent below where they were in 2022 by 2035. 

The costs of compliance are expected to average about 1 percent of the total projected costs to produce electricity from 2024 through 2047. 

The rule gives coal plants more time to comply with the rules than the proposal, as they now have until 2032 to install the technology instead of 2030. However, the rule moves up the timeline for new gas plants, saying they have to be installed by 2032 instead of 2035. 

The rule comes after the Supreme Court in 2022 restricted how the EPA can regulate power plants, saying the EPA cannot explicitly mandate a shift from a more polluting energy source to a power source with fewer emissions. 

But it did not bar the EPA from requiring improvements at the power plant sites. 

In addition to climate benefits, the rule is also expected to improve public health, resulting in pollution reductions that prevent up to 1,200 premature deaths in 2035 alone. 

The power sector is currently responsible for a quarter of the U.S.’s planet-warming emissions. Electric power’s demand in the years ahead may grow as more of the nation shifts toward electric cars and building appliances, making emissions cuts from the sector even more impactful. 

The mercury and air toxics rule

The EPA is also finalizing a rule that requires coal and oil-fired power plants to reduce their releases of mercury and pollutants including nickel, arsenic, and lead.

For all coal plants, it will lower limits for toxic metal emissions by 67 percent, reducing exposure to substances that can cause 

Exposure to these substances raises the risk of developmental delays in children, as well as heart attacks and cancer. 

Some power plants will also see their mercury limits become 70 percent more stringent. This change applies to plants that use a type of coal known as lignite, which have been operating under looser limits than other coal plants. Lignite plants are located primarily in North Dakota and Texas. Exposure to mercury is linked to heart disease and brain damage in babies. 

The wastewater rule

The third rule finalized by the EPA tightens restrictions on the number of toxic metals that can be discharged from power plants into wastewater. 

It is expected to prevent 660 million pounds of pollution per year, the administration said. People can be exposed to pollutants in coal plant discharges by consuming fish from these polluted waters, and such exposure can cause cancer and damage to the nervous system and kidneys. 

The coal ash rule

The last rule issued by the EPA on Thursday adds new requirements for ponds where coal waste has been dumped to prevent that waste from leaking out and contaminating nearby groundwater. 

Specifically, it applies standards that already exist to previously exempt “legacy” plants that closed before October 19, 2015. 

Coal ash ponds can contain dangerous substances including mercury and arsenic and, without proper closure they can leak, contaminating nearby water. 

Republicans, industry and advocates respond

The rules met significant pushback from Republicans and various industries. 

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said she would introduce legislation to repeal the greenhouse gas emission rule. 

“The administration has chosen to press ahead with its unrealistic climate agenda that threatens access to affordable, reliable energy for households and employers across the country,” said Capito, the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, in a written statement. 

“I will be introducing a Congressional Review Act resolution of disapproval to overturn the EPA’s job-killing regulations announced today,” she added. 

Meanwhile, Dan Brouillette, president and CEO of the Edison Electric Institute electric power lobbying, also criticized the rule. 

Brouillette, who was the Energy Secretary during the Trump administration, said that carbon capture “is not yet ready for full-scale, economy-wide deployment, nor is there sufficient time to permit, finance, and build the CCS infrastructure needed for compliance by 2032” in a written statement. 

However, the Biden administration’s moves were cheered by climate and environmental advocates. 

“The Biden administration this week is really taking substantial action on the climate crisis to address power plant pollution,” Charles Harper, power sector senior policy lead at Evergreen, told The Hill, adding that they are “a real win for everyone concerned about climate change.”

Samantha Parker

By Samantha Parker

Samantha is a seasoned journalist with a passion for uncovering the truth behind the headlines. With years of experience in investigative reporting, she has covered a wide range of topics including politics, crime, and entertainment. Her in-depth analysis and commitment to factual accuracy make her a respected voice in the field of journalism.

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One thought on “Biden cracks down on power plants’ climate emissions, pollution”
  1. It’s great to see the Biden administration taking such strong actions to combat climate change and protect the environment. These rules will help power plants become more environmentally friendly and reduce pollution, benefitting all communities in the long run.

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