Biden’s EPA postponing major piece of power plant climate rule

By Jean Chemnick | 02/29/2024 04:23 PM EST

The change comes as utilities express concern about grid reliability.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan speaks with the media.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan speaks with the media in November. Francis Chung/POLITICO

This story was updated at 8:49 p.m. EST.

The Biden administration is poised to split up one of its most important climate rules by delaying final action on the nation’s approximately 2,000 gas-fired power plants — a move that could push a major part of the president’s fight against global warming until after the November election.

POLITICO’s E&E News reported the change in an article published shortly before the Environmental Protection Agency announced it Thursday afternoon. It’s just the latest example of the administration diluting, slowing or otherwise tinkering with elements of its crackdown on planet-warming pollution as it weighs objections from groups including industry, labor unions and community activists.


Under the new approach, EPA is still expected to complete a rule in April that would cut greenhouse gas pollution limits for existing coal-fired and future natural gas plants. This is a crucial piece of President Joe Biden’s climate agenda, given the power industry’s role as the United States’ second-largest source of greenhouse gases.

But the rule coming out in April will no longer include limits for existing gas-fired plants — the country’s top generator of electricity. Instead, those plants will be the subject of a “a new, comprehensive” regulation that will also address harmful local pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides that contribute to ozone and toxics like formaldehyde, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement Thursday.

He added that the strategy would help communities near gas-fired power plants – including existing “peaker” plants that run at times of high demand and that last year’s proposal would not have covered.

The result would be a “stronger, more durable” regulation that better protects the health of people in disadvantaged communities, Regan said.

It got an immediate endorsement from groups such as WE ACT for Environmental Justice and the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, which said in a statement that last year’s draft did too little to safeguard poor, Black and brown communities where numerous pollution sources are often crowded together.The Sierra Club called the announcement a step toward achieving the “strongest possible protections for our environment and public health.”

But the change also leaves the fate of the gas-plant rule up to the outcome of the election, in which former President Donald Trump has vowed to shred Biden’s agenda and champion fossil fuels.

Some climate activists criticized EPA for the delay in addressing existing gas plants’ climate pollution.

“It is inexplicable that EPA, knowing of these emissions, did not focus this rulemaking on existing gas-fired plants from its inception,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said in a statement. “EPA promises that some future proposed rule will address these emissions, but time is not on our side, and the agency’s generally lethargic rulemaking pace does not leave one optimistic.”

The Clean Air Task Force also criticized EPA’s decision and said rules for existing coal and new gas plants are not enough. “The shot clock is winding down for reducing power plant emissions, and rather than taking the shot to eliminate emissions from existing gas plants, EPA has chosen to sit on the bench,” CATF attorney Frank Sturges said in a statement.

The agency says it plans to move quickly on the new rule on existing gas plants, starting with meetings and public engagement. But it is unlikely a proposal will be ready in 2024, let alone a final rule. The rulemaking process typically takes two years to complete.

EPA is planning to send its rule on coal plants and future gas plants to the White House for review Friday. Before Regan’s announcement, five people briefed on the change told E&E News that agency officials have decided they need more time to craft a rule that regulates the nation’s existing gas fleet without creating reliability problems.

Last year, EPA issued a proposal asking for input about how to avoid reliability problems under the draft power plant rule, which would have required existing coal-fired facilities and some gas plants to either shut down, capture their carbon dioxide pollution or — in the case of gas — burn high blends of hydrogen by dates in the 2030s.

The standard for existing gas plants was added to the proposed rule at the last minute last year, when it was under review at the White House, and utilities warned it would harm grid reliability.

Reporters Kelsey Brugger and Alex Guillén contributed.