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EPA must finalize strong carbon pollution standards for all coal and gas power plants

January 25, 2024 Work Area: Carbon Capture, Power Plants

As last year drew to a close, Clean Air Task Force (CATF) submitted supplemental public comments to support and sharpen the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed carbon pollution standards for the fossil fuel fleet, along with our partners at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). In our comments, we showed that with strong regulations on coal fired power plants and both new and existing gas plants our electric system will remain reliable, and that these proposals are supported by a strong record. 

It is imperative for EPA to timely issue strong emissions standards for all fossil-fuel power plants to protect public health and to safeguard against the worst effects of climate change. Failing to finalize standards — even without strengthening the standards as CATF and our partners recommended — would send signals to the market and to industry that EPA is willing to delay reductions.   

Achieving emissions reductions and maintaining reliability 

During the initial comment period on EPA’s proposal, we argued that the agency could do more to strengthen its proposal. Then last fall, EPA — and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — posed follow-up questions on how proposed emissions standards relate to the reliability of the electric grid. CATF and our partners emphasized to both agencies how the standards are essential to cut carbon pollution as required by the Clean Air Act and directed by the Supreme Court. 

Our comments showed that we don’t have to sacrifice grid reliability for emission reductions. EPA’s proposal included mechanisms designed specifically to reduce emissions while maintaining electric system reliability such as compliance timelines, source subcategories, and other flexibilities.  

For example, EPA’s proposal provides a reasonable amount of time for plants that choose to comply with the standards using carbon capture and storage to install control technology and build out necessary supporting infrastructure. Congress has invested billions in carbon capture and storage through programs and incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and permit applications for carbon storage wells are rapidly increasing. The proposal includes sufficient lead time for plants installing carbon capture and storage to realize the benefits of these investments and carbon management trends. It also includes progress reporting requirements that will allow EPA and states to make sure projects remain on track. 

EPA’s standards — finalized and applied to both coal- and gas-fired power plants, and combined with congressional investments — are necessary next steps in the fight against climate change.  

Now is the time for EPA to affirm its commitment to strong standards

It is essential for EPA to finalize strong emissions standards across the power fleet — for coal, new gas, and existing gas — and soon. EPA’s final standards must be comprehensive across sources to avoid emissions leakage and send a strong signal that it’s imperative to reduce carbon pollution. 

Acting now also maximizes synergy with federal investments and incentives. The United States is not yet on track to achieve its Nationally Determined Contribution of a 50 to 52% reduction in carbon pollution below 2005 levels by 2030. The need for prompt action is clear. Waiting will jeopardize the opportunity for sources to take advantage of federal investments for carbon dioxide sequestration, and will tell those who work on pollution control solutions that the U.S. doesn’t yet really mean business on carbon removal. 

CATF calls on EPA to act now to cut carbon pollution across the power fleet by finalizing strong and comprehensive emissions standards. 

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