The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new carbon pollution standards for fossil fuel-fired power plants that were proposed this year are facing another wave of opposition. Nearly 47,000 comments have been submitted to the agency by electric cooperative consumer members as part of a grassroots campaign organized by Voices for Cooperative Power opposing the EPA power plant rules.
In May 2023, the agency announced its new standards for coal and new natural gas-fired power plants that are expected to avoid more than 600 million metric tons of CO2 pollution through 2042. The proposed rules state that coal plants would have to capture 90% of their carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and natural gas units will have until 2035 to capture the same amount of CO2. The standards aim to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 2035.
According to the opposition, the rules put electric reliability at risk and will raise costs for consumers by setting unrealistic, unachievable goals that rely on still-developing technologies like carbon capture and storage and hydrogen as a fuel.
The strong response to the ongoing campaign by National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) grassroots platform reflects the importance of the issue to co-ops and their members, according to Patrick Ahearn, NRECA’s political affairs director.
“It’s important that our side is being heard… There’s always somebody on the other side who is out there advocating, so we want to make sure our co-op voices come through loud and clear,” commented Ivy Prater, NRECA’s program manager for grassroots technology.
The EPA proposal is due to be made final next year. It is currently facing a wave of criticism from multiple stakeholders, feeding into the expected challenges ahead of it. The regulation could go to the U.S. Supreme Court, whose conservative majority has strictly limited EPA’s options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
On the other end of the story, activists organized by the Climate Action Campaign announced a few weeks ago more than 1 million public comments to EPA urging the agency to adopt the strongest possible limits on climate pollution from electricity generation facilities.
According to the supporters of the EPA power plant rules, climate change now stands as one of the largest threats in front of communities and the planet, therefore urgent and robust measures limiting the causes of greenhouse gas pollution like fossil fuel power plants are needed to ensure the reliability of the energy sector in the long run and the well-being of our planet.
“Fifty years of history shows that the electric power industry’s nitpicking of EPA’s plan should be taken with a pinch of salt… The electric power industry has a long track record of objecting to new pollution control requirements as they are proposed, but then outperforming those requirements once they are set,” commented David Doniger, a senior strategic director at Natural Resources Defense Council, as reported by E&E news.
“The reality is we have the technology and the engineering knowledge to maintain reliability throughout the transition away from coal-fired plants to reliance on renewable energy for the majority of our electricity… EPA is giving the utility industry a lot of time to comply,” also stated Mike O’Boyle, senior director for electricity for Energy Innovation, a San Francisco-based energy analysis firm.
He also added that currently there isn’t a single authority tasked with ensuring the reliability of the grid and different stakeholders having different points of view and levels of confidence in maintaining reliability are speaking now towards EPA rules. The lack of single authority is also due to the fact that the management of the grid is fractured, explained Mr O’Boyle.
Stricter rules are needed for the fossil fuel energy sector that has been reluctant for decades to reduce its emissions. Often that is due to the fact that the sector would be faced with the choice to size down operations in order to meet emissions regulations.
However, as the energy companies are experiencing record revenues and profits, political support to implement low-carbon technologies and ever-growing public pressure to phase out fossil fuels and speed up the green transition, they have to now start taking responsibility for their emissions and adjust to the new reality of changing consumer wants.