Apr 24, 2023 - Podcasts

EPA prepares climate rules for power plants

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to soon release draft rules that would force dramatic carbon emissions cuts at U.S. power plants.

  • Plus, a reality check on Trump’s 2024 chances.
  • And, the abortion pill remains available for now.

Guests: Axios' Josh Kraushaar and Ben Geman.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Alexandra Botti, Fonda Mwangi and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Monday, April 24th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what you need to know today: a reality check on Donald Trump’s 2024 chances. Plus, the abortion pill remains available for now. But first, the EPA prepares power plant climate rules. That’s today’s One Big Thing.

EPA prepares power plant climate rules

NIALA: We're expecting the Environmental Protection Agency to release draft rules soon that would force dramatic carbon emissions emission cuts at U.S. power plants. Why this matters, electricity production is the second largest source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions after transportation. That's according to Axios’ Ben Geman, who's here with us to explain all of this?

Hey Ben.

BEN GEMAN: How are you?

NIALA: Then what do we know about these possible rules so far? What's the goal?

BEN: So the goal here is to really speed along the ongoing decarbonization of the U.S. power generation sector, right? Really there is just no pathway toward meeting the United States climate goals under the Paris Agreement without accelerating this process, right? One specific target that the Biden administration has previously laid out is that the electric power sector needs to be or should be at least fully decarbonized by 2035.

And so on some level you can kind of see this as a carrot and stick approach because in the recently past climate law and the bipartisan infrastructure bill, before that, you had a huge amount of funding from grants, from tax subsidies, from various different types of methods in order to bolster the development of technologies including renewable electricity, uh, hydrogen, carbon capture and storage and more. And so that was sort of the carrot side, but I think that this is candidly a recognition that a stick is needed to, in order to sort of really meet these aggressive U.S. targets on electricity as well as elsewhere too, transportation, but you know, for this is very much focused on coal and natural gas-fired power.

NIALA: So what are we expecting in terms of that stick? What would that look like when it comes to coal and natural gas-fired power plants?

BEN: So the EPA’s running room here is fairly constrained by a Supreme Court decision last year. I mean, to go back real quickly, there have been multiple efforts over the years to create some type of carbon emission standards for power plants. What the Obama administration tried to do was have this very sweeping, broad-based rule that would sort of push the industry into more adoption of things that are not coal and not natural gas, and sort of as a way to kind of spur more adoption of renewables. And what the Supreme Court said was Congress had not authorized the EPA to do anything like that.

So what this regulation is expected to do is stay much more at the specific power-plant level and sort of say to power plant owners, you need to reduce emissions to, at a sort of certain rate or toward a certain level from these facilities, but we can't force you to sort of shut them down or change toward renewables. What that's gonna mean in practice is companies are gonna need to adopt different technologies like carbon capture and storage, or potential use of hydrogen in order to curb emissions from plants.

Now, in some cases, that's going to mean just faster, uh, retirement of plants, right? Because it, it's often not economical to use these technologies. And so one thing that I'm really going to be on the lookout for is the reaction to these, whether or not folks think that these subsidies and these other incentives do make it economical enough to sort of have these kind of broad-based adoption of these technologies in the nation's power sector.

NIALA: Is there anything else we should be watching for, for when these draft rules come out?

BEN: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, once these rules are issued in draft form, there'll be a long, kind of boring, bureaucratic process. And then once the regulations are issued in final form, there will definitely be litigation, right? I mean, every major regulation is litigated, and so this is going to set up, I think, a major test of how much running room the EPA actually has under this Supreme Court ruling last year. We know that it sort of constrained them to some degree, but how much they are constrained is something of an open question. So how much running room is, you know, this very conservative Supreme Court ultimately gives EPA on this regulation, I think is something that they could be asked to weigh in on within the next few years.

NIALA: Ben Geman is an energy reporter at Axios, and you can read more about this in his Generate newsletter this morning. Thanks, Ben.

BEN: Thanks for having me on.


The abortion pill remains available for now

NIALA: Another update on the Supreme Court and the abortion pill mifepristone. The nation’s high court on Friday night ruled mifepristone will remain accessible while the legal challenge plays out.

The case that originated in a U.S. district court in Texas is being returned to the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. They’re set to hear arguments on May 17th.

Axios’ Oriana González reports the case could return to the Supreme Court, but it wouldn't be heard until next term – just as the 2024 presidential campaign is really getting underway.

In a moment, how things are shaping up for the 2024 presidential election.

A reality check on Donald Trump’s 2024 chances

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

As 2024 gets closer, a recent Wall Street Journal poll suggests Donald Trump may have a path to victory in a Trump-Biden rematch, writes Axios’ Josh Kraushaar. In the poll of 1,500 registered voters, President Biden's unfavorability rating is the same as Trump's – 57%.

Biden’s expected to announce his official run for president this week.

Josh is here to get us ready for all of this on this Monday morning – hey Josh.

JOSH KRAUSHAAR: Good morning, Niala.

NIALA: Josh, we should first note how far away we are from the 2024 presidential election still, but what are we learning right now that's going to matter for this contest? Let's start with that poll from The Journal, what did you take away from it?

JOSH: We are looking at two potential nominees that are both very unpopular with the general electorate, but also have a pathway to victory. The mood in both parties is we hate the other side more than we know what we're standing for policy wise. And after Trump was indicted, Trump gained in Republican party polling for the primary.

Joe Biden is still dealing with a lot of worry about his health, his age, but there are no other Democratic challengers running against him. So we're, look, the big question is you have this paradox where Democrats and Republicans want new faces, they want new leaders. Yet, all the leading indicators suggest that Biden and Trump both have a lot of momentum within their parties heading into the nomination fight.

NIALA: Josh, meanwhile, you've been reporting Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is performing poorly in his own state. How so?

JOSH: Well just look at the numbers of endorsees. The number of the week is 11 to 1. That's how many Republicans, 11 in Florida, in the Congressional delegation, have endorsed Donald Trump. Only one Florida Republican so far has endorsed Ron DeSantis and it happened to be Laurel Lee, the State Secretary of State who he appointed. And, and we talked to a lot of Florida Republicans for this piece in Sunday Sneak and look, it comes down to the lack of outreach, the lack of personal relationships, that one came up again and again from people in the know, in, in Florida that DeSantis doesn't have the same kind of warmth, the same kind of political, uh, skills to really reach out to some lawmakers who should be on his side, probably agree with everything DeSantis has done in Florida. But just don't like him personally, and ended up endorsing Donald Trump.

NIALA: And President Biden is expected to announce his bid for reelection tomorrow. Can we expect anything to change about this race once he announces?

JOSH: Almost every poll we've seen in this calendar year has shown a majority of Democrats, not Republicans, but Democrats not wanting him to run for a second term. And much of that is about health and age. So it's a reality that we're gonna be looking closely at whether that lukewarm support from voters in his own party is gonna end up having any implications when it comes to the politics of, of the next year.

NIALA: I don't know if it's too soon for a bottom line, but in April 2023, what does the potential of a Biden-Trump rematch mean right now?

JOSH: I think there's a reality check that Trump's in the game. He's down only by three points in that Wall Street Journal poll. He has the same, pretty much the same approval, disapproval rating as Joe Biden. The one silver lining for Democrats, for Biden in particular, is that the small number of voters who view him somewhat unfavorably in the Wall Street Journal poll, actually would end up voting for him nonetheless against Trump or even other Republicans like Ron DeSantis.

And that's what helped Democrats in the midterms in 2022, that Biden's numbers were not very good then either. But the people who, you know, they didn't like him, but they didn't like Republicans either, they ended up sticking with the president. And that's the one silver lining, I think, for Democrats.

NIALA: Josh Kraushaar writes Axios’ Sunday Sneak Peek Newsletter. Thanks, Josh.

JOSH: Thanks Niala.

NIALA: That’s it for us today! Thanks to everyone who has been sending me story ideas. You can do that by emailing podcasts at axios dot com or you can text me at (202) 918-4893.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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