EPA Proposes Power Plant Pollution Standards
Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed a list of new standards for coal and natural gas-fired plants to address carbon pollution. The standards would reportedly avoid up to 617 million metric tons of CO2 emissions through 2042, the equivalent to the emissions of 137 million passenger vehicles.
According to the EPA's press release, the EPA estimates the net climate and health benefits through 2042 could total $85 billion as a result of these standards.
The proposals would also allegedly cut tens of thousands of tons of harmful air pollutants such as particulate matter. In 2030 alone, the EPA reports that the proposed standardswould prevent:
“By proposing new standards for fossil fuel-fired power plants, EPA is delivering on its mission to reduce harmful pollution that threatens people’s health and wellbeing,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan.
“EPA’s proposal relies on proven, readily available technologies to limit carbon pollution and seizes the momentum already underway in the power sector to move toward a cleaner future. Alongside historic investment taking place across America in clean energy manufacturing and deployment, these proposals will help deliver tremendous benefits to the American people—cutting climate pollution and other harmful pollutants, protecting people’s health, and driving American innovation.”
EPA is proposing new carbon pollution standards for fossil fuel-fired power plants to tackle the climate crisis and protect public health.— U.S. EPA (@EPA) May 11, 2023
These standards would avoid 617 million tons of CO2 emissions — equivalent to reducing the annual emissions of half the cars in the U.S. pic.twitter.com/5FmthOyrdu
Consistent with standards under the Clean Air Act, the proposed limits would need “ambitious” reductions in carbon pollution based on power plant control technologies. According to the EPA, these new standards should also allow for grid operators to make “sound long-term planning and investment decisions.”
The EPA adds that these standards can be implemented without any large impact on electricity prices.
Additionally, the EPA and Department of Energy recently signed a memorandum of understanding, agreeing to “support grid reliability and resiliency at every stage as the agency advances efforts to reduce pollution, protect public health, and deliver environmental and economic benefits for all.”
The EPA also reports that the technology-based standards in the proposed rule, which will determine how to most cost-effectively meet the proposed standards and emissions guidelines, include:
In a separate study, the EPA projects that these standards and the third phase of NSPS could reduce 407 million metric tons worth of CO2 emissions. These proposed standards reportedly reflect the best system of emission reduction to improve the emissions performance of the sources.
The EPA also says it has considered technologies such as CSS and adopting “highly efficient generation technologies.”
According to research from the EPA, installation of controls like CSS for coal and gas plants, and low-GHG hydrogen co-firing for gas plants, are the most affordable for plants that operate at a larger capacity, frequently, or for long periods of time.
The proposal would supposedly require states to engage meaningfully with areas burdened by pollution and climate change impacts as well as energy communities and workers. Following guidance from the Council on Environmental Quality, the proposal would ensure that the advancement of carbon capture and utilization will be done in a “responsible manner that incorporates the input of communities and reflects the best available science.”
The EPA plans to comment on these proposals 60 days after publication into the Federal Register, as well as holding a virtual public hearing. The agency will also host virtual trainings to provide communities and Tribes with information about the proposal and about participating in the public comment process.
2022 Power Plant Emissions Report
Earlier this year, in March, the EPA released its annual data on power plant emissions, reportedly reflecting a long-standing trend of decreasing annual emissions due to changes in the mix of fuels used in electricity generation. The 2022 report, which covers the lower 48 states, showed electricity demand increased by 2% for these power plants and by 3% for all electric generation in the first 11 months of 2022.
According to the release, compared to 2021, the latest data showed a 4% decrease in nitrogen oxide emissions, a 10% decrease in sulfur dioxide emissions, a 1% decrease in carbon dioxide emissions and a 3% decrease in mercury emissions.
Ozone season nitrogen oxide emissions also decreased by 10%. The EPA notes that this number decreased by 21% in states covered by the current Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), which requires additional nitrogen oxide emission reductions to facilitate attainment of the 2008 National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
Overall, annual emissions from power plants of sulfur dioxide fell by 93% and nitrogen oxide emissions fell by 87% between 1990 and 2022. In 2022, sources in both the CSAPR annual program and the Acid Rain Program (ARP) together emitted 0.85 million tons of sulfur dioxide, a reduction of 11 million tons from 1995 levels.
Additionally, last year, sources in these programs together emitted 0.75 million tons of nitrogen oxide, a 5.1-million-ton reduction from 1995 levels. While complying with programs to reduce sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury, power plants reduced their carbon dioxide emissions by 22% between 1995 and 2022.
The EPA reports that these long-term declines in the power sector help reduce air pollution and public health.
Emissions data collected through the ARP, the CSAPR programs and the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) are posted online and accessible to the public on the EPA’s Power Plant Emission Trends page.