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EPA to delay rules for some power plants until after November election

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday it is delaying planned rules to curb emissions from existing natural gas plants, which release harmful air pollutants and contribute to global warming.

The agency said it is still on track to finalize rules for coal-fired power plants and new gas-fired power plants that have not yet come into service, a key step in slowing global warming through the energy sector, the world’s second-largest contributor to the country’s climate change. .

But in a reversal from previous plans, the agency said it will revise standards for existing gas-fired power plants and expand the rules to include more pollutants. The change came after complaints from environmental justice groups, who said the previous plan allowed too much toxic air pollution, which disproportionately harms low-income neighborhoods near power plants, refineries and other industrial sites.

“As EPA works on final standards to reduce climate pollution from existing coal- and new gas-fired power plants later this spring, the agency is taking a new, comprehensive approach to cover the entire fleet of natural gas-fired turbines, as well as coverage for more pollutants.” , EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement.

He called the new plan a “stronger, more sustainable approach” that will achieve greater emissions reductions than the current proposal. It will also better protect vulnerable frontline communities suffering from toxic air pollution caused by power plants and other industrial sites, Regan said.

Still, the plan was not universally welcomed by environmentalists, who said the new approach is likely to force regulations on existing gas-fired power plants after November’s presidential election.

“We are extremely disappointed in the EPA’s decision to delay finalizing carbon pollution standards for existing gas-fired power plants, which account for a significant portion of the energy sector’s carbon emissions,” said Frank Sturges, attorney for the Clean Air Task Force, an environmental organization. group.

“Greenhouse gas emissions from power plants have gone unchecked for far too long and we have no more time to lose,” he said.

Other environmental groups applauded the decision, saying the new plan would ultimately produce better results.

“We always knew that the fight for a clean energy sector would not be quick,” said Charles Harper of Evergreen Action. “EPA’s first order of business should be to finalize strong and necessary limits on climate pollution from new gas and existing coal-fired power plants as quickly as possible.”

“We’re pleased that EPA is committed to getting the job done with a new rule that applies to every gas plant operating in the US,” Harper added.

“Tackling dirty coal plants is one of the most important steps the President and the EPA can take to curb climate pollution,” said Abigail Dillen, president of Earthjustice. “As utilities propose new fossil gas plants, we absolutely need to get ahead of a major new pollution problem.”

EPA issued a proposed rule in May 2023 calling for dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions from existing coal and gas power plants, as well as from future gas plants planned by the energy sector. No new coal-fired power plant has opened in the US in the past decade, while dozens of coal-fired power plants have closed in recent years due to competition from cheaper natural gas. The Biden administration has committed to creating an energy sector free of carbon pollution by 2035.

The EPA proposal could force power plants to capture stack emissions using a technology that has long been promised but is not widely used in the United States.

If finalized, the proposed regulations would mark the first time the federal government has limited carbon emissions from existing power plants, which produce about 25% of U.S. greenhouse gas pollution, after the transportation sector. The rule would also apply to future power plants and would avoid up to 617 million metric tons of carbon dioxide through 2042, equivalent to the annual emissions of 137 million passenger vehicles, the EPA said.

Nearly all coal-fired power plants — along with large, widely used gas plants — would need to reduce or capture almost all of their carbon emissions by 2038, the EPA said. Plants that cannot meet the new standards would be forced to close.

Much of the EPA plan is expected to be finalized this spring and will likely be challenged by industry groups and Republican states. They have accused the Democratic administration of overreaching on environmental regulations and warned of a looming reliability crisis for the power grid. The power plant rule is one of at least six EPA rules that limit power plant emissions and wastewater treatment.

When the EPA proposal was announced last year, the National Mining Association warned of “an onslaught” of government regulations “intended to prematurely close the coal fleet.”

Regan has denied that the power plant rule is aimed at shutting down the coal sector, but acknowledged last year that “we will see some coal withdrawals.”

Coal supplies about 20% of U.S. electricity, up from about 45% in 2010. Natural gas supplies about 40% of U.S. electricity. The rest comes from nuclear energy and renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and hydropower.

Peggy Shepard, co-founder and executive director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, a New York-based group, said she was pleased that environmental justice communities’ concerns will be included in the EPA’s rulemaking.

“The energy sector is one of the main sources of carbon emissions and pollution,” she said. “With this pause to delve deeper into developing the most comprehensive and thoughtful regulations for existing gas-fired power plants, we have the opportunity to do this work correctly and effectively to protect the human and environmental health of the most overburdened, neglected and vulnerable people to protect around the world. the country.”

The EPA’s revised plan was first reported by Bloomberg News.