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New EPA Standards Will Have Minimal Impact on Reliability

UCS background paper outlines the context, benefits, and opportunities of historic new power plant standards

The EPA is in the process of issuing and implementing long-awaited Clean Air Act power plant standards, which will provide substantial benefits for our health, our environment, and our economy. These historic new standards will lower harmful emissions from coal-burning power plants, reduce our dependence on this polluting energy source, and move the country toward a healthier, cleaner energy future.

The Lights Will Stay On

Some industry representatives and members of Congress have greatly exaggerated the risks these standards pose to the reliability of our electrical grid. The reality is that, for the most part, the new standards are expected to have minimal impact on reliability.

Many coal plants will stay online and be updated with modern pollution controls that reduce their harmful emissions. Those that do retire can be replaced by a number of economically competitive, readily available alternatives like natural gas, renewable energy, and improved energy efficiency.  And in the isolated instances where reliability may be an issue, there are well-defined processes and procedures in place to identify and respond to this possibility.

Standards Will Reduce Coal's Impacts, Provide Clean Energy Opportunities

Coal is one of the most polluting sources of energy. Carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants contribute significantly to the risks of climate change. Harmful pollutants released by burning coal have been linked to an increase in asthma attacks, heart disease, neurological problems, and premature deaths. 

These new EPA standards will help decrease the health and environmental impacts of our coal use. But we need other policies to realize the full benefit of this opportunity to modernize and clean up our energy system. In particular, policies should be enacted that explicitly support renewable energy and energy efficiency so that they can complement the role played by natural gas as part of a diversified clean energy resource base.

EPA Power Plant Standards: A Powerful Catalyst for Modernizing our Electric System

In this background paper, UCS outlines information on the following topics. (Links lead directly to the relevant content within the full report.)

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