EPA falling behind on eight key climate change and air quality regulations

The Environmental Protection Agency is “falling behind” on finalizing eight key rules to slash air pollution, water pollution and planet-warming emissions from the nation’s power plants, according to a report by the climate advocacy group Evergreen Action.

Evergreen Action examined whether the EPA is on track to finalize 10 power-sector regulations before the end of President Joe Biden’s first term.

After several delays and missed deadlines, EPA must go further, faster to finalize these rules during Biden’s first term and keep our climate and environmental justice targets within sight.

If the rules are issued in the waning days of Biden’s first term, a future Republican-controlled Congress could overturn them using the Congressional Review Act, which allows lawmakers to scrap any regulation within 60 legislative days of its finalization by a simple majority vote.

After “several delays and missed deadlines,” the report concludes, eight rules could be left unfinished or wiped from the books by disapproving lawmakers, while two rules are on track to be rolled out next year.

“It’s now time to ring the alarm that EPA is falling behind on their own proposed timelines for implementing these important rules,” said Evergreen Executive Director Jamal Raad.

“If they don’t start proposing these important rules by the end of this year, they will not be able to finish these rules by the end of the first term, which would be extremely detrimental to meeting our climate and environmental justice commitments,” said Raad.

Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) into law on August 16, 2022, injecting over $370 billion in climate and environmental justice investments into the economy and America’s fight against climate change.

According to multiple analyses put out by the Biden administration, Senate Majority Leader Schumer, and other independent experts, the IRA will help cut carbon pollution by around 40% below 2005 levels by 2030—bringing the U.S. closer than ever before to meeting the President’s pledge to reduce carbon pollution 50-52% economy-wide by 2030.

Modeling by Energy Innovation has shown that the law would also create significant air quality benefits, preventing about 2,700 premature deaths in the year 2030.

While the IRA represents historic progress on Biden’s climate and pollution goals, there is still much more that needs to be done to ensure those reductions are realized and to close the 10-12% emissions gap still on the table.

Cleaning up the power sector is the linchpin in achieving this economy-wide target, as other sectors, including transportation, buildings and some heavy industry, will rely heavily on clean electrification to decarbonize.

The IRA contained large incentives to deploy new clean energy—an essential part of the President’s “standards, investment, and justice” approach to climate policy. However, the bill provided few of the standards that directly reduce power sector emissions.

To finish the job in cleaning up the power sector—and to close the remaining 10-12% emissions gap by 2030—the administration must now pursue a stronger regulatory agenda. This must include standards from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that cut pollution from fossil fuel power plants, including both climate pollutants and the traditional air and water pollutants that harm human health and drive environmental injustice. 

Unfortunately, many of these regulations are behind schedule. Because of extensive public comment and procedural requirements and the potential for lengthy litigation, the rulemaking process often takes years.

Without picking up the pace, the administration risks leaving critical steps either unfinished at the end of President Biden’s first term or subject to the Congressional Review Act.

This memo provides a report card on 10 important climate and air and water quality regulations that EPA must complete and shows that, to finalize each rule during the first term and guarantee progress on climate and clean air, EPA Administrator Michael Regan must move further, faster.

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