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Join our work today to help us build a thriving and just clean energy future. 

Three Ways EPA Must Strengthen Its Power Plant Carbon Rules

EPA’s new carbon pollution standards are a major opportunity to cut power plant pollution. You can take action now to make the proposed rules stronger.

Composite image of President Biden (with a black and white filter) signing a bill in the center. To his right are coal power plant smoke stacks with a red filter. To his left is a bright blue sky.



On April 25, 2024, EPA finalized the first-ever power plant pollution standards for the existing U.S. coal fleet and newly proposed gas plants, with most covered plants required to cut their pollution by 90 percent by 2032. Together, these rules are estimated to curb over 1.4 billion metric tons of carbon pollution and create $270 billion in climate benefits and $120 billion in public health benefits.

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On May 11, the Biden administration took one of its most important climate actions to date. EPA Administrator Michael Regan proposed regulations for carbon pollution from new and existing power plantsThis proposal has the makings of a strong standard, but several elements of the rule must be tightened up before it is finalized next year. Here’s what you need to know.


This rule is a big deal

These power plant carbon standards are one of the most effective climate tools in President Biden’s arsenal. Power plants are an enormous source of climate-warming pollution in the country, second-only to transportation, producing 25 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gasses. 

Under these rules, fossil fuel power plants would face federal requirements to reduce their carbon pollution for the first time. Until now, existing coal and gas plants have been allowed to spew carbon pollution into our atmosphere without any federal intervention, contributing to the climate crisis and harming communities and the environment alike. 

Administrator Regan smiling as he announces EPA's new power plant carbon rules at a podium. Beside him are American flags and behind him is a navy blue banner that reads

Administrator Regan announced EPA’s new power plant rules at the University of Maryland on May 11, 2023.

Reducing power-sector pollution is essential for the U.S. to achieve its science-based climate targets and to protect the American people from the worst effects of climate change. Even after the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, the U.S. is not currently on track to reach these goals. Carbon standards on power plants are a critical step in closing the gap.

To cut pollution at the pace science demands, EPA’s proposed standards must be strengthened in three key ways:

  1. They must expand the number of plants covered by these rules
  2. They must speed up compliance schedules
  3. They must increase safeguards and community input

To understand each of these changes, we first have to understand the proposal.


What exactly did EPA propose?

EPA’s proposed rule would cover several distinct sources that create that 25 percent of national carbon pollution. That includes existing plants that burn either coal or fossil gas, and gas plants that have been proposed but not yet built. While these rules would set different requirements for each source, many power plants would be required to reduce their carbon pollution by 90 percent before 2030 or 2035.

The rule for existing coal plants would require 90 percent reduction in carbon pollution by 2030 for plants not planning to retire in the near-term. If a plant is retiring before 2040, EPA would require less stringent reductions in return for a binding retirement commitment.

EPA’s proposal for existing gas plants would require some of these plants to reduce their emissions 90 percent by 2035 (or by 2038 if the plant opts to reduce pollution by burning clean hydrogen). However, the rule as proposed would only cover large, baseload gas plants, specifically units with a capacity of 300 megawatts (MW) or more that run at least half of the year. That would leave the majority of the gas fleet unregulated.

The proposal for new gas plants would set different requirements based on how often the plant would run. New baseload plants that run at least half the year would need to cut their pollution 90 percent by 2035 (or by 2038 if burning clean hydrogen). New intermediate plants that run between 20 and 50 percent of the year would be required to reduce emissions equivalent to co-firing with 30 percent hydrogen by 2032. In the meantime, both types of plants would face a lower standard based on “highly efficient generation.” New peaker plants—power plants that generally run only when there is a high demand—that run less than 20 percent of the year would face a minimal standard based on burning gas or fuel oil.

In each of these rules, EPA is not requiring power plants to install any specific abatement technology. The agency simply sets a pollution level that plants must achieve and then leaves it up to states (for existing plants) or the plant itself (for new plants) to achieve the requirements.

Graphic listing the 3 ways to strengthen EPA's carbon pollution standards. 1 - expand the number of power plants covered. 2 - make power plants cut carbon pollution sooner. 3 - increase input from impacted communities.

These proposed rules represent a positive first step. All the elements of a strong rule are in place. However, EPA can go further, faster, in reducing carbon pollution. The agency is now taking public comment on its proposal before finalizing these rules early next year. Here are three ways the rules must be strengthened.


1. Expand the number of power plants covered

Currently, most existing gas plants would be left totally unregulated by EPA’s proposal. The agency must strengthen this provision. 

Under the rule as proposed, only the largest plants that run at least half the year would be regulated, leaving the majority of gas plants around today totally unregulated at the federal level. That leaves major pollution reductions on the table.

EPA estimates that only 14 percent of gas plants, producing 23 percent of gas generation, would be covered by the existing gas rule when requirements begin in 2035. That means the vast majority of gas plants would be left unregulated unless EPA tightens up the rule. Today, gas plants emit 44 percent of power-sector carbon pollution—but that number is predicted to rise to 74 percent by 2030 as emissions from coal plants decrease.

EPA is considering lowering the thresholds for gas plants regulated by these rules. If the capacity limit was lowered from 300 MW to 100 MW, then 78 percent of 2035 gas generation would be covered instead of 23 percent, according to EPA’s own analysis. NRDC estimates that lowering the capacity limit to 100 MW and the capacity factor limit from 50 to 40 percent would cover 84 percent of 2022 emissions from gas plants, compared to 29 percent under the proposal. The agency must do so. 


2. Speed up compliance schedules

The proposal contains long compliance timelines that sometimes don’t require full compliance until 2030, 2035, or later. EPA should move these deadlines forward to better protect the health and welfare of Americans from the climate crisis.

New gas plants would not be required to reduce carbon pollution significantly until 2035, allowing these plants to come online in the meantime without abatement technology. Plants that are still being planned can and should take advantage of available modern technology right now. EPA should require 90 percent emissions reductions for new plants starting immediately—or risk significant new gas plants being built that increase climate pollution when we must be reducing it.

As proposed, coal plants could operate without meaningful reductions to their carbon pollution for years as long as they retire before 2040. If plants retire by 2032, they can maintain routine operations. If they retire between 2032 and 2035, they must limit their runtime to 20% of the year. If they retire between 2035 and 2040, they must co-fire their coal boilers with 40 percent natural gas, which leads to only a 16 percent reduction in carbon pollution. This timeline is unacceptable. If EPA creates carve outs for retiring coal plants, the deadline to retire should be in the near term. Even the utility lobby has advocated for a retirement exemption through only 2028.

For existing gas plants, full compliance would not be required until at least 2035. That deadline should also be moved forward to 2030.

Watch now: Evergreen Action sat down with a panel of climate experts, including Gov. Jay Inslee, to break down what these rules mean and how we can make them even stronger. Read the top takeaways of the conversation on our blog.

3. Increase safeguards and community input

Finally, EPA and the White House must ensure that communities have ample opportunity for engagement in both the rule design and its implementation. Furthermore, they must ensure that any technologies used for compliance with the rule do not exacerbate long standing environmental injustices. Particularly, if utilities or states choose to deploy carbon capture or hydrogen as mitigation technologies to meet these standards, impacted communities must have full information and ample opportunities to inform those compliance plans. As states develop their compliance plans for the existing plants rule, EPA is requiring consultation with affected communities—a positive step. 

We urge the administration to continue coordinating across agencies and EPA offices to craft and enforce guardrails to ensure mitigation technologies do not exacerbate environmental injustices or local air pollution. That should include rules under EPA’s Office of Water to ensure safe and permanent sequestration of carbon dioxide, as well as rules from the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) that ensure safe carbon dioxide transport. EPA should also require continuous emissions monitoring at all power plants to ensure plants are achieving the carbon pollution reductions they claim. 

Watch now: Evergreen Action's Power Sector Senior Policy Lead Charles Harper explains why carbon pollution standards are one of President Biden's most effective climate tools.

EPA must act fast

EPA must finalize the strongest version of these standards by March 2024. EPA has a legal obligation to protect Americans from climate pollution, and the climate crisis is already harming folks today. The Biden administration must act with urgency to finalize these rules during the first term. Furthermore, finalizing these rules no later than spring 2024 would ensure that a future Republican Congress could not use the Congressional Review Act to strike down these rules after the 2024 election. Such an action would prevent EPA from setting any “substantially similar” rules in the future. 

EPA has said that both rules will be finalized by June 2024. That’s too late—the agency must accelerate their schedule. Time is of the essence. 

EPA must act expediently to put the most effective versions of these rules into effect. And the administration is accepting public comments now.

The agency just opened an opportunity for the public to weigh in on these rules, and the comment deadline is fast approaching. The fossil fuel industry is already working to water down these essential climate regulations—it’s up to us to push back. Join us in telling EPA to strengthen its carbon pollution standards. Climate action can’t wait.