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EPA’s New Power Plant Proposed Rule Spurs Conversation on Limits of Carbon Capture

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a highly anticipated proposed rule aimed at reducing carbon emissions from coal and natural gas-fired power plants. This proposed regulation makes up a significant component of the Biden Administration's goal to reduce the country's emissions by 2030.

If a power plant rule sounds familiar, it’s because it has been an ongoing issue for close to ten years. The past two administrations have tried to regulate power plant emissions through the Clean Power Plan (CPP) under President Obama and the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule under President Trump. The Supreme Court ruled that the Clean Power Plan overreached and required the Trump Administration to replace the rule. The Trump Administration’s version was struck down by a lower court on his last day in office setting up President Biden to issue a redo. The Biden Administration’s version falls somewhere in between the past two attempts.

The latest proposed rule would require coal plants to cut emissions by 90% by 2030, while natural gas plants would need to capture 90% of emissions through carbon capture technology by 2035 or run on hydrogen by 2038. The EPA believes that if this rule goes into effect, the US could avoid up to 617 million metric tons of CO2 through 2042, with net benefits of around $85 billion.

The plan relies heavily on carbon capture technologies that would capture carbon onsite from coal and gas power plants. Carbon capture technologies generally benefit from bipartisan support in a divided government. For the most part, agencies have been appropriated high funding amounts for carbon capture RD&D and the 45Q tax credit has incentivized private sector use. However, this is the first regulation that would mandate power plants to use this technology to meet environmental goals.

Since this technology is largely untested at this scale, critics and supporters alike are looking at existing hurdles to meeting these emissions cuts. The U.S. faces logistical challenges in scaling up carbon capture technology due to a lack of adequate policy support at all levels of government and limited infrastructure to utilize captured carbon. Additionally, there is a concern that technology installation requirements will be prohibitively expensive.

Republicans and Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) have already publicly come out in opposition to this proposed rule, with Senator Manchin pledging to oppose any EPA nominees that come before the Senate. Environmental justice groups are also opposed to this proposal, claiming that it gives the industry more latitude to continue to produce carbon-intensive energy.

The next steps for this proposed rule involve a 60-day public comment period, as well as a public hearing and virtual trainings with communities and Tribes on June 6 and 7. The EPA still has a long way to go before this rule is finalized. Regardless of what the rule looks like in its final form, it will spur a much-needed conversation on the opportunities and limits of carbon capture technologies.


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