EPA Finalizes Rules Addressing Climate, Health Harms from Power Plant Pollution

Statements by Chitra Kumar and Julie McNamara, Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Apr 25, 2024

Media Contact

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today issued four final rules regulating climate- and health-harming pollutants from fossil fuel-fired power plants, covering mercury, air toxics, and wastewater discharge from coal-fired power plants; storage of coal ash; and the release of carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants and new gas-fired power plants. These measures will deliver critical public health protections for communities that have long suffered from the burning of fossil fuels, as well as provide major reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

Below is a statement by Chitra Kumar, the managing director of the Climate and Energy Program at UCS, about the package of power plant rules.

“The suite of power plant rules announced by EPA Administrator Regan represents a significant step forward in the fight for ambitious climate action and environmental justice. Together, these rules help address a long-standing legacy of public health and environmental harms stemming from coal-fired power plants that scientific studies show have disproportionately hurt communities of color and low-income communities. By setting carbon standards for new gas-fired power plants, Administrator Regan has also rightly recognized the growing climate threat posed by a shift to fossil gas, helping to stave off a whole new round of pollution harms.

“With rigorous implementation and enforcement, these safeguards can provide essential protections for communities living in the vicinity of fossil fuel power plants, near coal ash disposal sites, or along waterways polluted by toxic waste from coal plants. As states and utilities move to implement these rules, they must prioritize proactive community engagement—including with historically overburdened populations, as well as affected fossil fuel workers and communities—to ensure outcomes reflect the needs of those most directly impacted.

“The bottom line is that coal-fired power is massively polluting, increasingly uneconomic, and must be rapidly phased out to protect public health and address the climate crisis—and the solution cannot be committing to even more fossil gas. The quicker our nation can transition toward clean renewable energy, the better it will be for people and the planet.”

Below is a statement by Julie McNamara, a senior analyst and deputy policy director of the Climate and Energy Program at UCS, about the power plant carbon standards.

“It’s untenable that coal-fired power plants have gone so long without carbon limits despite their staggering climate toll, and that new gas-fired power plants keep getting built without carbon accountability. EPA’s new carbon standards for coal-fired power plants, coupled with parallel rulemakings cracking down on mercury and air toxics, coal ash, and toxic power plant wastewater discharge, rightly force the hand of all coal plants that remain: clean up or make an exit plan. Furthermore, EPA’s carbon standards for new gas-fired power plants are a critical check on the profoundly shortsighted buildout of ever more fossil fuel infrastructure.

“Delivering the rapid and robust clean energy transition the science demands requires attending to numerous policymaking levers and dials, but none are more fundamental than EPA doing its job in holding fossil-fuel-fired power plants to account for their pollution harms—and in so doing, leveling the playing field for states and utilities to pursue truly clean energy solutions instead.

“For as critical as these carbon rules are, the agency’s job is not yet done. EPA must tackle carbon emissions from existing gas-fired power plants—soon to be the largest source of power sector carbon emissions—and it must look beyond carbon to reckon with the full suite of health-harming pollution these plants disproportionately and inequitably force on the communities that surround them. When all the heavy costs of fossil fuel-fired power plants are tallied, it’s unequivocally clear that clean energy presents the just and necessary path ahead.”