New proposed standards for coal and new natural gas fired power plants would avoid more than 600 million metric tons of CO2 pollution, while also preventing 300,000 asthma attacks and 1,300 premature deaths in 2030

May 12, 2023

WASHINGTON  – The Environmental Protection Agency proposed a suite of new regulations targeting carbon pollution from most of the nation’s 3,400 natural gas and coal plants, which are responsible for about 25 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Power plants are the second-largest source of the country’s climate pollution, but also a sector whose emissions shrunk by more than a third since 2005. President Joe Biden has promised an even more dramatic shift in the next 12 years to reach 100 percent “clean” electricity by 2035. The Inflation Reduction Act’s renewable investments help some, and these new rules move it along further.

“Exposure to pollution emanating from power plants is linked to chronic conditions, including asthma, heart disease, COPD, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, low birth weight, greater risk of preterm birth, and higher rates of infant mortality and death. It disproportionately impacts historically underserved communities like those I represent. It’s time we bring environmental justice to these communities,” said Howard Watts, Nevada Assemblyman, Elected Officials to Protect America Leadership Council. “President Biden can meet his commitment to a 50 percent reduction in emissions by 2030 in part by ensuring the strongest EPA standards for coal and gas fired power plants happen. We have to cut carbon pollution, protect our children and families, and remove toxins from our air and water now.”

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the proposed new carbon pollution standards for coal and natural gas-fired power plants that will protect public health, reduce harmful pollutants and deliver up to $85 billion in climate and public health benefits over the next two decades.

Elected Officials to Protect America, a group of thousands of elected officials from across the country want to ensure the proposal i the strongest one possible.

“For decades our environmental justice communities have been subjected to the worst pollution New Mexico produces. This impacts the cognitive abilities of children and worst of all their health, leading to lifelong lung issues, or worse cancer. A report, Climate, Health, and Equity Implications of Large Facility Pollution Sources in New Mexico, found that power plants, gas processing plants and compressor stations, mines, and other stationary facilities contribute approximately one quarter of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. And the communities most impacted are our lower-income, and have high populations of people of color, our environmental justice zones,” said Debbie Sariñana, New Mexico State Representative Air Force Veteran, EOPA National Leadership Council Chair, former school teacher. “Enough is enough. As an Air Force veteran, former school teacher and state representative, I say, enough is enough. It’s time the EPA brings justice to our state and helps our communities who need it the most. It is incumbent upon the EPA to enact the strongest power plant rules.”

The proposal for coal and new natural gas power plants would avoid up to 617 million metric tons of total carbon dioxide (CO2) through 2042, which is equivalent to reducing the annual emissions of 137 million passenger vehicles, roughly half the cars in the United States. Through 2042, EPA estimates the net climate and health benefits of the standards on new gas and existing coal-fired power plants are up to $85 billion.

“In 2020 the total emissions from Michigan’s top 10 power plants were recorded at 38.9 million metric tons, which is equivalent to 8.4 million cars on the road for a year. While I’m proud to see our car companies producing more electric vehicles, our power plants are fueled by fossil fuels and continue to release greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, including carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, which speeds up the climate crisis and harms environmental justice communities disproportionately the most,” said Allen Park City Councilmember Gary Schlack, Michigan, Army Veteran. “Global warming contributes to conflicts around the world. This is a national security threat. The EPA must enact the strongest possible limits on carbon dioxide pollution from all new and existing power plants for our health, and security. This must be accomplished without penalizing the salaries of the hard-working operators that work in our power plants.”

According to EPA, the proposals would also result in cutting tens of thousands of tons of particulate matter (PM2.5), sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide, harmful air pollutants that are known to endanger people’s health, especially in communities that for too long have disproportionally shouldered the burden of high pollution and environmental injustice. In 2030 alone, the proposed standards would prevent:

  • approximately 1,300 premature deaths;
  • more than 800 hospital and emergency room visits;
  • more than 300,000 cases of asthma attacks;
  • 38,000 school absence days;
  • 66,000 lost workdays.

The technology-based standards EPA is proposing include:

  • Strengthening the current New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for newly built fossil fuel-fired stationary combustion turbines (generally natural gas-fired)
  • Establishing emission guidelines for states to follow in limiting carbon pollution from existing fossil fuel-fired steam generating EGUs (including coal, oil and natural gas-fired units)
  • Establishing emission guidelines for large, frequently used existing fossil fuel-fired stationary combustion turbines (generally natural gas-fired)

If implemented, the regulations — combined with President Biden’s plans to speed up the transition to electric vehicles, curb methane leaks from oil and gas wells, and energize the economy with the Inflation Reduction Act’s (IRA’s) investment of $370 billion into clean energy — would significantly reduce U.S. emissions and put the country on track to meet President Biden’s pledge to cut the country’s emissions in half by 2030 and to reach net zero by 2050.

Elected Officials to Protect America’s (EOPA’s) included these measures, along with others, in its Climate Emergency Plan, that over 1,050 elected officials from across the country have signed onto with an online letter to the President and Congress.“Since the creation of our Climate Emergency Plan, Elected Officials to Protect America has helped herald the Inflation Reduction Act and the Infrastructure Law into being. But these measures alone won’t achieve the U.N. climate goals we need in order to hold back devastating climate crisis storms, drought and fires that are projected, which would result in millions of displaced people and spur conflict. This is a national security threat. The EPA needs to enact the strongest power plant CO2 emission standards without delay,” said Alex Cornell du Houx, former Maine state Representative, Marine combat veteran, President of the Elected Officials to Protect America, and Co-Founder.

Based on a separate analysis, EPA is projecting the proposed standards for existing gas-fired plants and the third phase of the NSPS could achieve up to 407 million metric tons of CO2 emission reductions. As EPA works to finalize the rulemaking, the agency will complete additional advanced modeling, aligning methodologies across the rulemaking and considering real-world scenarios within the power sector to best understand how components of the rule impact each other.

It’s been 14 years since the agency published its analysis that greenhouse gases pose a threat to public health and welfare, a decision that triggered its Clean Air Act obligation to take action on the largest sources of emissions.

“Dirty power plants seriously threaten our health and the climate, yet these super-polluters have filled our skies with toxins for decades without consequence. The food we grow, the air we breathe continues to cause illnesses like asthma, heart disease, lung issues and cancers. It disproportionately impacts underserved communities like those I represent. In 2020, the 10 most climate-polluting plants in Georgia were responsible for 91.5 percent of global warming emissions from the power sector despite only generating 56.5 percent of total electricity,” said Park Cannon, Georgia State Representative, Elected Officials to Protect America Leadership Council. “We must hold power plants accountable for damaging our health and climate. I urge the EPA to enact the strongest regulations possible to curb CO2 emissions from power plants.”

The proposal requires that states, in developing plans for existing sources, undertake meaningful engagement with affected stakeholders, including communities disproportionately burdened by pollution and climate change impacts, as well the energy communities and workers who have powered our nation for generations.

EPA also conducted an environmental justice analysis, which shows these proposals would, play a significant role in reducing greenhouse gas pollution, helping avoid the worst impacts of climate change, which is already having a disproportionate impact on underserved and overburdened communities.  

“Extreme heat – fueled by greenhouse emissions and climate change – kill too many of our residents every year, particularly residents who are unhoused or live in communities that suffer disproportionately from pollution. Power plants are leading culprits in burning fossil fuels, and Phoenix is home to 3 of the top 100 most polluting power plants in the U.S. In 2020 the total emissions from our top 10 power plants were recorded at 30 million metric tons, which is equivalent to 6.5 million cars on the road for a year,” said Yassamin Ansari, Phoenix, Arizona Vice Mayor, Elected Officials to Protect America Leadership Council. “The EPA must require almost all existing and future coal and gas-fired power plants to cut or capture 100 percent of their CO2 emissions. America needs the strongest EPA regulations possible to curb emissions from these power plants.”

Since 2005, the power sector has reduced carbon dioxide emissions 36 percent while continuing to keep pace with growing energy demand. President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act provides historic investments in pollution control technologies and clean energy, and together, will move the United States closer to ensuring a cleaner, healthier future for all communities.

“Over the last two decades, Pennsylvania’s power generating sector has reflected a shift from coal to natural gas-burning generators, which now account for over half of all electricity generated in the Commonwealth. While air quality has improved as a result, natural gas generators still emit massive amounts of carbon pollution. Because Pennsylvania is the third largest producer of electricity in the U.S., federal policies are critical. We need stricter rules across Pennsylvania, and nationally, to ensure that all greenhouse gasses (GHGs) emitted from our energy sector are either captured, or replaced with truly environmentally-friendly generation sources,” said Joel Hicks, Pennsylvania, Carlisle Borough Councilmember, Elected Officials to Protect America Leadership Council. “The EPA’s proposed rule for existing generators is critical in ensuring we meet our nation’s goal of 50 percent GHG reductions by 2030 and decarbonization of the electric grid by 2035. The administration’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) provide subsidies to assist in making sure we stay on track. Pennsylvania will benefit from this rule, adding jobs and ensuring our great nation continues to innovate and not stagnate in our effort to limit the effects of climate change.”

EPA will take comment on these proposals for 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. EPA will also hold a virtual public hearing and will make additional information available on the website. Registration for the public hearing will open after the proposal is published in the Federal Register.

The agency will also host virtual trainings to provide communities and Tribes with information about the proposal and about participating in the public comment process. Those trainings will be on June 6 and 7, and registration information is available on EPA’s website.

For more information: Greenhouse Gas Standards and Guidelines for Fossil Fuel-Fired Power Plants