Proposed EPA Rules Take Aim at Fossil Fuel-Fired Power Plants
Power plants that use natural gas or coal as a fuel will have to eliminate almost all of their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2042, if new rules proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are finalized.
Electric power generation represented 28 percent of the U.S.’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2022, according to a study by the Rhodium Group. Declining steadily since 2006, power generation-borne emissions were the third-largest source of GHG emissions in 2022, falling behind transportation and industrial emissions.
New regulations from the EPA seek to reduce those emissions almost entirely. According to the EPA, the proposal includes updated emissions standards for fossil fuel-powered plants that utilize “cost-effective and available control technologies”. Such technologies include carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), low-GHG hydrogen generation systems, and for the use of natural gas in coal-fired facilities. However, the EPA does not prescribe any single technology to be employed, but rather leaves power plants to make their own decision on how to reduce the emissions, including shutting down altogether.
Emissions reduction standards would be progressive, with lower standards being implemented incrementally from 2024 through 2042 depending on the type of fuel used, specific generation process, associated reduction technologies being used at the facility, and the frequency of the plant’s operations. However, the proposal provides guidelines for the use of CCS, low-GHG hydrogen, and other technologies to be used to reach those individual emissions targets.
Estimates from the EPA are that the updated regulations would mitigate 617 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) by 2042, in addition to significant reductions in other GHGs and other pollutants. These reductions, and their effect on human health and environmental safety, would save the U.S. approximately $85 billion by 2042.
There are economic and technological concerns regarding the current feasibility of the proposed regulations, specifically their effect on consumer’s energy bills and the costs associated and availability of technologies like CCS.
In a statement discussing consumer energy prices, EPA Administrator Michael Regan made assurances that though prices are expected to increase by 2 percent by 2030, under these regulations the effect would be “negligible,” adding that the “climate and public health benefits fare exceed those costs”.
Though the use of CCS and low-GHG fuel is a large part of the EPA’s plan, issues surrounding the costs, scalability, and commercial availability of such systems remain. There are currently 196 CCS projects in some state of development globally, of which 30 are fully operational with a total annual capture capacity of 42.58 million metric tons of CO2. For context, total electrical generation-borne CO2 emissions totaled 1.5 billion metric tons in 2022, according to the U.S, Energy Information Administration.
The rules would also hasten the closure of remaining coal-fired power plants, the number of which have already been in decline. It’s likely that the proposed rules will face a number of legal challenges from the coal industry and legislative efforts to undo them.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee indicated opposition to the proposal in a statement, questioning the legal authority of the EPA to regulate power plant emissions, ultimately adding that he will oppose all EPA nominees in their confirmation efforts.