UCS Calls for EPA Power Plant Rule with Stronger Standards, Faster Timelines, Hydrogen Guardrails

Published Aug 9, 2023

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) closed the public comment period Tuesday for proposed standards limiting carbon emissions from fossil fuel-fired power plants. The draft rule includes standards for new gas-fired power plants and existing coal-, oil-, and gas-fired power plants under the Clean Air Act.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) submitted expert public comments recognizing EPA’s uniquely important role in directly confronting carbon emissions from fossil fuel-fired power plants, as well as outlining the changes required to ensure the final rule is as rigorous and effective as possible at advancing the health and well-being of people and the environment. UCS fundamentally believes that the electricity mix of the future should be one premised on renewable resources, energy efficiency, flexible demand, and energy storage. At the same time, for as long as polluting coal-, gas-, and oil-fired power plants remain online, they can and must be held to account for all the public health and environmental harms they bring.

These comments come at a time when much of the country and the world is reeling from unprecedented climate-fueled extreme disasters and record-breaking heat, raising the urgency of making sharp, rapid cuts in global heat-trapping emissions.

UCS offered detailed comments to the agency on the following 11 topics:

  1. EPA authority and climate imperative. EPA is correct to initiate this rulemaking given the agency’s clear authority and obligation to act, which is underscored by the pressing urgency and severity of climate change.
  2. Coal plants. EPA appropriately identifies existing coal-fired power plants as covered sources but must advance the compliance dates and tighten the requirements it sets for each coal plant subcategory.
  3. New gas plants. EPA establishes a practical organizing framework for new gas plants but must lower the thresholds it uses to differentiate subcategories based on how often plants are run, tighten the reduction requirements it sets for each of those subcategories, and advance compliance timelines.
  4. Existing gas plants. EPA fails to sufficiently address carbon pollution from existing gas plants, soon to be the largest source of power sector carbon pollution; the agency must swiftly issue a supplemental rulemaking to address this gap.
  5. Oil and gas steam plants. EPA risks creating a pollution loophole by failing to effectively regulate oil- and gas-fired steam plants.
  6. Hydrogen eligibility. EPA must establish rigorous eligibility criteria for the carbon intensity of hydrogen used to set standards and demonstrate compliance.
  7. Compliance flexibility and guardrails. EPA must support compliance flexibility while defending against adverse outcomes, such as undermining the strength of the rule and increasing pollution in already overburdened communities, by setting rigorous guardrails around calculation of mass-based compliance targets and tightly limiting emissions averaging and trading.
  8. Grid reliability. EPA has crafted a proposed rule that incorporates considerations of, and protections to ensure, grid reliability.
  9. State plan requirements. EPA has identified important components for states’ implementation plans but must tighten requirements to improve outcomes and protect the interests of impacted communities, including those around affected plants and any infrastructure associated with possible approaches to compliance, especially carbon capture and storage and hydrogen co-firing.
  10. Community engagement and environmental justice. EPA has a responsibility to foreground the health and well-being of people—including historically overburdened communities, as well as affected fossil fuel workers and communities —in the design, evaluation, finalization, and approvable implementation of its rule.
  11. Biomethane and offsets. EPA must accurately calculate the lifecycle heat-trapping emissions of biomethane and prohibit states, utilities, and plant owners from using offsets to demonstrate compliance.

As states and utilities move to comply with the standards EPA has proposed, UCS emphasizes that they have wide latitude to achieve compliance via clean energy alternatives. When those clean energy solutions are appropriately measured against the costs and risks of attempting to limit the many and varied harms fossil fuel-fired power plants bring, clean energy solutions can and will win out.

During the four-month comment period, UCS drove over 27,000 individuals to submit comments asking the EPA to deliver standards that would combat climate change, improve public health, and protect the environment. Dr. Marc Futernick, steering committee Chair of the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health, is among the public health experts who submitted comments—and he explains why in a UCS guest blogpost. UCS also joined several groups, led by the Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University School of Law, in submitting comments on the social cost of greenhouse gases in the context of this proposed rule.