Carbon dioxide from coal and gas power plants would be reduced under new rules Coal and natural gas-fired power plants would have to dramatically reduce the climate-warming greenhouse gasses they emit under proposed federal rules.

An EPA proposal to (almost) eliminate climate pollution from power plants

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The Environmental Protection Agency is releasing a new proposal this morning.


The agency is trying again to limit the emissions of carbon linked to climate change. The agency wants to all but eliminate carbon dioxide from coal- and gas-fired plants.

INSKEEP: We say they're trying again because the Supreme Court threw out the last effort, or a previous effort. Jeff Brady from NPR's climate desk is here. Hey there, Jeff.


INSKEEP: What will these rules do?

BRADY: Well, for big coal- and gas-fired plants that run all the time, they'd have to capture 90% of their carbon dioxide emissions that come out of smokestacks or burn some clean forms of hydrogen. And these changes have to come pretty quickly. President Biden has a goal of zeroing out greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector by 2035. The emission limits, they're based on what current carbon capture technology can do. That's for the big power plants that operators want to keep running for a long time. For other plants that are scheduled to shut down in the next few years or that run less often, they would face less stringent emission limits. Here's what EPA Administrator Michael Regan says that would do for the climate.


MICHAEL REGAN: EPA's proposal is expected to avoid more than 600 million metric tons of carbon dioxide through 2042, which is equivalent to cutting emissions from half the total number of cars in the United States for an entire year.

BRADY: And Regan says there are significant health benefits, especially for people with breathing problems, because in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, other air pollutants get reduced, too.

INSKEEP: Oh, that's interesting. But how are these rules different from the attempt that was made under the Obama administration known as the Clean Power Plan?

BRADY: Well, to start, the EPA thinks the rules announced this morning will withstand legal scrutiny from a conservative Supreme Court. The Obama-era rules did not. Those were overturned last year. The court sided with critics who said the agency overstepped its authority by telling power plant owners to switch away from fossil fuels to cleaner electricity, like solar and wind and nuclear. This time, the EPA is taking a different approach. It's setting emission limits for individual power plants. But these will be even stricter than what the Obama administration proposed nearly a decade ago, and that's a big deal because the power sector is the second-biggest source of greenhouse gases behind transportation.

INSKEEP: OK. So they're not ordering companies to switch over to a different fuel. But they're saying restrict emissions, use carbon capture if you can, which may be expensive. What does the industry think?

BRADY: Well, as you can imagine, they're not happy. They argue the new rules would shut down a lot of plants, hurting reliability, and increasing costs for ratepayers. Administrator Regan says EPA numbers show costs will not rise significantly, and he disputes the reliability claims. He says that was considered in drafting these proposed rules. The coal industry probably has the most to lose here since coal-fired plants are more carbon-intensive. And Democratic Senator Joe Manchin from the coal state of West Virginia, he had harsh words for the Biden administration. He criticized what he called the administration's, quote, "radical climate agenda" and said he'll block the administration's EPA nominees in the Senate until something changes.

INSKEEP: Is this EPA proposal going to become reality?

BRADY: You know, it's still a long process before it becomes a final rule. They're collecting comments. That's the next step. Final rules are expected next year, but I'm almost certain we can expect a court challenge.

INSKEEP: Jeff, thanks so much.

BRADY: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's Jeff Brady from NPR's climate desk.

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