Foes wage attacks as Biden rolls out power plant rules

By Robin Bravender, Jean Chemnick | 04/25/2024 01:26 PM EDT

The Biden administration hopes its new rules will withstand an onslaught of legal and political opposition.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan announces final standards to reduce pollution from power plants.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan announces final standards to reduce pollution from power plants during an event at Howard University on Thursday in Washington. Kevin Wolf/AP

You’d be forgiven if you felt déjà vu Thursday as the Biden administration held a back-slapping event in Washington to roll out its final rules to clamp down on power plants’ greenhouse gas emissions.

President Joe Biden is now the third consecutive president to take a crack at doing so, and he’s hoping his version will be the one that survives after courts struck down his predecessors’ attempts.

But critics in Congress and in the power industry announced legal and political attacks as soon as the rules were announced, ensuring bitter battles ahead on Capitol Hill and in the courts.


The Biden administration announced four rules Thursday aimed at regulating power plants. In addition to the long-awaited greenhouse gas standards for carbon dioxide emissions, EPA rolled out final rules for mercury, wastewater and coal ash disposal.

“By finalizing these standards on the same day, we’re ensuring that the power sector can confidently prepare for the future by enabling strategic long-term investment and establishing an informed multiyear strategy,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said Thursday at an event at Howard University in Washington.

The event was part of a series of “Earth Week” events held by the Biden administration as the president looks to shore up his environmental credentials and boast his climate policies heading into the November presidential election. The administration is pushing out a host of environmental rules this month in the face of a looming deadline to insulate regulations from potential rollbacks if former President Donald Trump returns to office next January.

Biden’s allies in environmental groups and Democrats on Capitol Hill were quick to herald the rules as a boon for the climate and for industry, but critics of the rules immediately declared war.

West Virginia Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who led the legal charge against the Obama administration’s greenhouse gas rule for power plants, vowed to sue over Biden’s version.

“We will be challenging this rule,” Morrisey said Thursday in a statement. “We are confident this new rule is not going to be upheld, and it just seems designed to scare more coal-fired power plants into retirement — the goal of the Biden administration.”

Morrisey said his office is reviewing the other power plant rules announced Thursday as well and will “be working with state and industry partners to implement the best strategy for fighting back against Biden’s anti-energy agenda.”

GOP offensive

Congressional Republicans have already announced plans to try to overturn Biden’s rules.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, said she’ll use a legislative tool to try to kill the climate regulation.

The Congressional Review Act allows lawmakers to adopt a “resolution of disapproval” for agency rules with simple majorities in both chambers of Congress, but unraveling a rule would require a two-thirds majority of both chambers to override a likely veto from Biden.

“To protect millions of Americans, including energy workers, against executive overreach that has already been tried and rejected by the Supreme Court, I will be introducing a Congressional Review Act resolution of disapproval to overturn the EPA’s job-killing regulations announced today,” Capito said in a statement.

Rep. Troy Balderson (R-Ohio) said he’ll wage a similar effort in the House to overturn the climate rule.

Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) said he plans to use the Congressional Review Act to try to torpedo EPA’s final rule to limit power plants’ mercury and air toxics.

“President Biden and his administration continue to take the wrong approach to energy development in the U.S., handcuffing our producers with unworkable regulations and raising costs for consumers,” Hoeven said Thursday in a statement.

Industry complaints

Industry groups piled on criticisms as well.

The Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned utilities, lauded EPA’s “efforts to align compliance deadlines to help companies make informed resource planning decisions that minimize customer costs,” the trade group’s President and CEO Dan Brouillette said in a statement.

But “we are disappointed that the agency did not address the concerns we raised about carbon capture and storage,” added Brouillette, who served as Energy secretary during the Trump administration.

Jim Matheson, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, called EPA’s suite of rules “unlawful, unrealistic and unachievable.” The “barrage of new EPA rules ignores our nation’s ongoing electric reliability challenges and is the wrong approach at a critical time for our nation’s energy future,” he said.

‘What took you so long?’

Regan pushed back against industry’s concerns Thursday.

The EPA administrator said he understands industry “hedging their bets and wanting as much flexibility as possible.”

But “we know the potential of this industry, we’ve been talking to this industry,” Regan said. “They’ve provided us comments over the past two years formally and informally,” he added. “We believe that we have those interests baked in.”

The EPA boss defended the length of time it took to release the power plant rules, taking a swipe at the Trump administration.

“Some people have asked me, ‘What took you so long?’” Regan said. “I’ve had to remind them that when President Biden took office, EPA was in a hole.

“Not only is the patient revived, but the patient has returned as a mighty warrior,” Regan added. “The mighty warrior that it’s always been, fighting to protect public health and fighting to protect the environment for every single person in this country.”

Reporter Emma Dumain contributed.