EPA power plant regulatory strategy will cut air, water & land pollution

Speaking at the CERAWeek energy conference, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan recently unveiled an integrated power plant pollution strategy.

“We’re looking at a full suite of opportunities that marry a range of EPA authorities,” Regan said. “We don’t have to overly rely on any one policy or rulemaking to achieve our mission and ensure affordable and reliable energy.”

Regan said the new approach will allow EPA “to tackle the full array of threats that power plants pose to clean air, safe water, and healthy land. It also provides greater transparency, regulatory certainty for long-term investments, opportunities to reduce compliance complexity, and the right signals to create market and price stability.”

The CERAWeek energy conference is an annual energy conference in Houston, Texas.

Power plants are the largest stationary source of harmful pollution in the United States, according to Regan. They are expected to release a combined 1.2 million tons of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide next year, he said.

About 8,000 people die prematurely each year because of the fine particles and ozone precursors produced by power plants, which cause about $80 billion a year in health costs.

According to Regan, nearly three-quarters of the fossil-fired power generation plants in the United States are in low-income communities.

“An integrated and coordinated approach allows us to tackle the full array of threats that power plants pose to clean air, safe water, and healthy land,” Regan said. “It also provides greater transparency, regulatory certainty for long term investments and opportunities for us to reduce compliance complexity and the right signals to create market and price stability.”

“EPA is advancing a smart strategy to clean up dirty power plants—which emit billions of tons of deadly pollution every year,” said David Doniger, senior strategic director in the Climate & Clean Energy program at Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members.

“They are our country’s biggest industrial polluters and a key source of carbon pollution that drives the climate crisis,” said Doniger. “EPA has the authority and the duty to protect us from each of these dangers under the Clean Air Act and other laws.”

“This clear-eyed strategy will help everyone—states, power companies, and consumers—transition to the clean energy future we desperately need,” said Doniger. “That will protect people’s health, including in communities already overburdened by pollution. It will create good jobs, make us more secure and tackle the climate crisis head-on.”

The EPA’s strategy for cutting pollution from the power sector is based on three key principles: transparency and open dialogue, improving public health, and ensuring that power producers can continue to provide reliable and affordable electricity, according to Regan.

“That means providing state and federal energy regulators, power companies and grid operators with well-timed information about our actions and making every effort to have coherent compliance deadlines,” Regan said.

Renewable energy is the fastest growing form of new generation while U.S. coal power plants are facing headwinds, Regan said.

“They’re simply unable to compete with newer technologies that are dominating current market investments,” Regan said. “The power sector is becoming cleaner because technologies and markets are leading us there.”

At the start of this year, there was 230.3 GW of coal-fired capacity, making up 18.5% of the U.S. generating fleet, according to a March 8 report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). A decade ago, coal capacity accounted for almost 30% of the generating fleet.

At 133 GW, wind accounted for 10.7% of all U.S. generating capacity at the start of this year, up from 45.1 GW, or 3.9%, a decade earlier, according to FERC. In the same period, solar capacity has grown from 2 GW, or 0.2% of the fleet, to 67.8 GW, or 5.4% of all U.S. generating capacity.

In the next three years, the agency expects 27.6 GW of coal capacity, representing 12% of the coal fleet, will retire while none will be added.

Meanwhile, FERC expects 53.8 GW of solar and 21.6 GW of wind will come online through 2024.

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