The US Environmental Protection Agency plans to apply new limits to traditional pollutants, such as ozone and coal ash, to encourage the retirement of the remaining coal-fired power plants in the country, according to the head of the EPA Michael Regan.
The approach reflects how the Biden administration intends to press ahead with goals to decarbonize the electricity sector despite the recent Supreme Court ruling that limits the agency’s ability to impose sweeping climate regulations.
The energy industry is the source of a quarter of the nation’s greenhouse gases, and Biden campaigned on a pledge to reduce its emissions to net zero by 2035.
“Will [the supreme court decision] limit what we could do and the flexibilities that we could allow the electricity sector to have? Absolutely,” Regan told Reuters.
“But are we deterred? Absolutely not. The EPA is still in the game.”
Regan, speaking during a tour of contaminated sites in Puerto Rico, said the court’s ruling would mean a rule the EPA hopes to unveil next year to address carbon emissions from power plants will be more limited than it would have been. been otherwise.
But he said the EPA is also working on several other rules targeting power plants, including requirements for the disposal of toxic coal ash and improvements to the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone.
When combined, the rules will signal to the US energy industry that clean energy is the most cost-effective way to comply, he said.
“We want to present the industry with a set of regulations so they can make the best long-term investments possible,” Regan said.
“The energy sector … will look at the cost-benefit of meeting them and will most likely come to the conclusion that … clean energy is more profitable for them and for their customers,” he said.
Biden’s Democratic predecessor in the White House, Barack Obama, was widely criticized by Republicans and fossil fuel advocates for trying to use the EPA to regulate the coal industry.
Last month, the supreme court issued a 6-3 decision that curtailed the EPA’s authority to take a system-wide approach to decarbonizing the power sector, saying such important policies need congressional support.
A new law authorizing the EPA to take such action is unlikely now, given deep divisions in Congress over climate change.
Senate Democrats reached an agreement this week to spend nearly $370 billion on climate and energy security after more than a year of negotiating.
US carbon emissions from the power sector have already dropped dramatically in recent years as utilities retire old coal-fired power plants in favor of natural gas, solar and wind power, a shift driven by declining prices from these sources and by state and federal incentives. for renewable energies.