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Cuts are coming to emissions that will be challenged in court.

The Biden administration is preparing to unveil a proposal to require power plants to drastically reducetheir greenhouse-gas emissions by 2040, another attempt to regulate one of the country’s biggest contributors to climate change after the Supreme Court struck down the first effort, according to three people familiar with the plans. If implemented, the Environmental Protection Agency would set limits so stringent that fossil-fuel-burning power plants probably would have to use technology to capture their carbon dioxide emissions from their smokestacks or switch to other fuels to comply, according to the three people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a plan that is not yet public. The proposal is still under final analysis at the White House and could change before the EPA completes and announces it. The limits could nearly eliminate emissions from fossil-fuel burning plants after the most stringent standards go fully into effect, the people said. Another source familiar with the proposal said that there will be significant cuts to emissions from these plants, but potentially not as dramatic or extreme as others have suggested.

The fine details are moving and it may be a week before they are released.

The EPA has been planning an announcement for the coming days, but final details are in flux, and a formal proposal could be more than a week away, according to several people familiar with the planning. Turning that proposal into a final rule package would be likely to take months more, and, according to two of the people familiar with the details, many of the proposal’s most stringent standards would not take effect until the 2030s, giving industry years to come into compliance gradually. Although its greenhouse-gas emissions have been declining, the electric-power sector remains the country’s second-largest contributor to climate change, being responsible for a quarter of such emissions nationwide in 2021, according to EPA data. That has long made power plants a top target for climate regulations, and President Biden has previously promised to eliminate their emissions by 2035. The Supreme Court has loomed over the effort. It ruled last year that the EPA during the Obama administration had exceeded its authority by building the first attempt at such regulations around a new system to push power companies to switch fuels across their fleets, and replace coal with cleaner options. The updated rules that Biden has promised have been held up for months in part because the agency has been trying to craft them in accordance with that decision so they might survive a conservative-majority court.

The rules would apply within the fence line.

The administration’s plan is to stick with rules that apply within a plant’s fence line, with limits on the amount of what each plant can emit, according to four people familiar with the effort. They will be applied through rules for new gas-fired plants, and existing gas-and-coal-fired plants, those people said. The policy would not mandate any type of technology or fuel, according to the threepeople familiar with the latest details. But they said the limits it sets would be so stringent that to meet them, fossil-fuel-burning plants most likely would need to use carbon-capture technology or be capable of switching to use hydrogen, which burns without greenhouse-gas emissions. Some of these details were previously reported by the New York Times. “EPA cannot comment because the proposals are currently under interagency review,” agency spokeswoman Maria Michalos said in an emailed statement. “But we have been clear from the start that we will use all of our legally-upheld tools, grounded in decades-old bipartisan laws, to address dangerous air pollution and protect the air our children breathe today and for generations to come.”

The Agency has been busy with regulations.

The agency has been issuing a raft of new rule proposals just in recent weeks as it attempts to fulfill Biden’s big climate promises before he faces reelection. The administration spent most of its first year pushing its climate agenda through legislation, and now that Congress approved nearly $370 billion in new climate spending, Biden officials are trying to finish accompanying regulations before Republicans have a chance to take power and undo them. Fossil-fuel advocates — including several Republican-led states — have vowed to fight these moves in court. And if Republicans take majorities in Congress, they could also use the Congressional Review Act to repeal any regulations that weren’t finalized within 60 legislative days of it being implemented. Many of the new proposals aim to reduce air pollution and greenhouse-gas emissions from the power sector. Just last week the EPA announced the strictest restrictions ever on emissions for cars and trucks, the country’s largest source of planet-warming emissions. It has also promised later this year to finish a proposed rule on the oil and gas industry’s emissions of methane, which traps roughly 85 times more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

These regulations are essential for meeting the climate actions planned.

Researchers who model emissions say that this collection of regulations is essential for meeting Biden’s commitment to cut total U.S. emissions in half from 2005 levels by 2030. Last year’s climate spending bill, called the Inflation Reduction Act, would get the country on course to reduce emissions by up to 42 percent by that target date. The executive actions on power plants, vehicles and methane would take it most of the rest of the way, another 6 percentage points of reduction, according to analysis released last month by the Rhodium Group. But environmental groups are concerned the specifics of the EPA’s power-plant proposal may not be strong enough, and are planning to push for faster timelines, according to two people familiar with the response granted anonymity to speak about plans that aren’t yet public. Several leading environmental groups declined to analyze the proposal Saturday, saying they would need to wait until the EPA makes details public. Urgency will be a top concern, and a 2040 timeline does not match Biden’s initial promise to zero out the sector’s emissions by 2035, said John Paul Mejia, national spokesman for the Sunrise Movement. He also noted concerns about any plan that relies on carbon capture and hydrogen technology, which are opposed by environmental justice groups that advocate for minority and poor communities and say those technologies are ways to sustain historical polluters like the oil and gas industry. “This is a step in the right direction, but it needs to be much more stringent,” Mejia said. “This proposal should be in line with the scale of ambitions that were promised to us.”

Sixty percent of the energy plants are on fossil fuel.

Fossil fuels — almost exclusively gas and coal — still accounted for roughly 60 percent of the country’s electricity last year, according to Energy Department data. Utilities have been moving to zero-emissions sources, mostly wind and solar, retiring a lot of fossil fuels, especially coal, and that trend shows signs of slowing. After retiring about 11 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity annually from 2015 to 2020, the industry plans to shutter 8.9 gigawatts this year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. To help them reduce their emissions, Congress has provided subsidies to develop carbon-capture technology and make it more profitable. A federal tax credit provides as much as $180 per metric ton for businesses that use it. The Inflation Reduction Act also boosts by 70 percent the tax credit for the troubled legacy carbon capture technologies oil and gas companies have traditionally used to get more oil out of the ground, increasing it to $60 per ton. Changes like those factor into EPA rule making. If the technology needed to comply is cheaper and more efficient, the agency can use that in its rule making to raise standards on the basis that it should be easier for businesses to meet them. The agency is also factoring in flexibilities for plants, according to two people familiar with the details. Targets will vary at each plant based on size and use, and some coal-fired plants scheduled to retire in the coming years may not have to meet the new standards at all, the people said.

These regulations will help but the oil and gas industry will fight toot and nail.

Dramatic cuts to power plant emissions
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