EPA Attacks Climate Pollution Standards for New Power Plants

December 6, 2018
Sharyn Stein, 202-572-3396, sstein@edf.org

(Washington, D.C. – December 6, 2018) The Trump administration launched its latest attack on common sense protections against dangerous pollution today with a proposal to senselessly weaken climate pollution standards for new, modified, and reconstructed power plants.

“Today’s proposal would allow the construction of new coal plants without any meaningful climate pollution safeguards. It puts our health and our children’s future at risk for the benefit of a few of the worst polluters,” said EDF Senior Attorney Martha Roberts. “We are seeing more and more evidence that climate change is getting worse – at the same time that we’re seeing more states, utilities and businesses turn to clean, reliable and affordable energy solutions. Yet the Trump administration is taking us backwards, weakening protections we already have on the books.”

EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler issued the proposal today. It would severely weaken existing protections – and even questions whether carbon dioxide pollution from new power plants should be subject to any limits at all under the Clean Air Act.

Today’s proposal is the latest attack by the Trump administration on protections against dangerous pollution. The Trump EPA is also advancing a proposal to weaken our protections against mercury and other toxic pollution from existing power plants, trying to roll back pollution limits for cars and trucks, and undermining methane pollution standards for oil and gas facilities.

The proposal flies in the face of mounting evidence that we can, and must, make clean energy progress:

  • A Trump administration report warns that natural disasters are worsening because of climate change
  • New studies show world greenhouse gas levels are rising rapidly,
  • Xcel Energy just announced that it will provide 100 percent carbon free electricity to its customers in eight Midwestern and Western states by 2050.

The Trump administration, meanwhile, is now requesting comment on whether EPA should completely eliminate any nationwide limit on carbon dioxide pollution from new coal-fired power plants.

EPA established our first-ever nationwide limits on carbon dioxide pollution from new, modified, and reconstructed fossil fuel-fired power plants in 2015.  As the Clean Air Act requires, EPA set the standards at levels that reflect the best demonstrated pollution controls – for new coal-fired power plants, this includes partial capture and storage of carbon dioxide pollution. These standards have been in full force and effect for more than three years, protecting all Americans from uncontrolled carbon dioxide pollution from new power plants. 

Today’s proposal would weaken the standards, and allow new coal-fired power plants to be built and operated without reducing their carbon dioxide pollution to any meaningful degree.

Today’s proposal ignores recent developments that demonstrate the reasonableness of the current standards for new coal-fired power plants:

  • In December 2016, Petra Nova — a commercial-scale carbon capture project at NRG Energy’s W.A. Parish generating station in Texas — successfully started operation. Every day, Petra Nova captures as much carbon pollution as 350,000 cars emit in a day.
  • For years, states across the country, such as Illinois and Montana, have applied policies to encourage or require new power plants to capture their carbon emissions.
  • In February 2018, Congress passed tax credit legislation that opens up even more cost-effective opportunities for carbon capture and storage projects.

Legal challenges to the carbon dioxide pollution standards for new, modified, and reconstructed power plants have been in abeyance — or on pause — in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit since April 2017. Eight public health and environmental organizations, including EDF, have intervened to defend the standards, as have 18 states, the District of Columbia and the City of New York, and seven power companies.

Other supporters of the common-sense standards have filed amicus, or “friend of the court,” briefs – including a coalition of scientists in the field of carbon capture and storage, experts who study how government policy can drive innovation and cost savings, Saskatchewan Power Corporation – operator of Boundary Dam coal-fired power plant, a major carbon capture facility – and the Institute for Policy Integrity at NYU School of Law.

The Trump administration will accept public comment on today’s proposal for sixty days. 

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