Apr 24, 2023 - Energy & Environment

What to watch in EPA's power plant climate rules

U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by economic sector
Data: EPA; Chart: Axios Visuals

The Environmental Protection Agency is said to be nearing the release of draft rules to force carbon emissions cuts at the nation's power plants, Ben writes.

Why it matters: Electricity production is the second-largest source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, mostly from coal- and gas-fired plants.

Driving the news: The New York Times reports that under the plan, these plants could need to end nearly all their emissions by 2040.

  • Bloomberg has the same rough info, though both outlets caution the rules are still under construction.
  • Green and industry groups have held meetings with White House and EPA aides in recent days — a frequent sign of an impending release.

What we're watching: A few things to keep in mind when the draft rules arrive in coming days or weeks ...

🧮 The math: The power sector has already been getting cleaner. Coal provided half of U.S. power 15 years ago but just a fifth last year, and renewables are growing fast.

  • But the rules are a recognition that climate law carrots — via major clean power tax subsidies — need complimentary sticks to meet national climate goals.
  • The White House has pledged a 50% cut to economy-wide emissions by 2030 when compared with 2005 levels, under the Paris Agreement.
  • Separately, the White House has an aspirational target of 100% carbon-free power by 2035.

🤝🏽 The synergies: The rules, per multiple reports, won't require specific tech. Nonetheless, they will be a de facto mandate to use carbon capture and, at gas plants, hydrogen.

  • So a big thing to watch is how much EPA sees the climate law — and the 2021 infrastructure law — making that tech competitive enough to meet the standards.

⚖️ The courts: A 2022 Supreme Court ruling constrained the EPA's power to impose regulations that pushed system-wide movement toward renewables.

  • The new requirements are expected to instead focus "inside the fenceline" on emissions rates at power plants.
  • But litigation is certain once they're finalized, so it's possible the high court could decide again whether they believe EPA stayed in its lane.

⏰ The clock: Bureaucratic wheels turn slowly. So, if a Republican wins the White House in 2024, the rules could be undone before they've really become facts on the ground.

Go deeper