EPA is slated to release a proposed rule today that would relax control requirements for greenhouse gas emissions for new and modified power plants.
The New Source Performance Standards are expected to no longer consider partial carbon capture and storage technology as the best approach to cutting carbon emissions.
Instead, the agency is calling for new and heavily modified power plants to focus on efficiency improvements.
The plan is related to the proposed Affordable Clean Energy rule, which covers carbon emissions from existing power plants.
In a draft press release obtained by E&E News, EPA describes CCS as an "unproven" technology and would no longer consider it the "best system of emissions reductions" for new coal plants.
Instead, the agency will replace it with "the most efficient demonstrated steam cycle in combination with best operating practices." EPA is hosting an event to formally announce the new rule this afternoon.
Under the revised standard, the agency would set different emissions standards for large and small units.
Large coal-fired units would be able to emit 1,900 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour. For small units, the emissions rate would be 2,000 pounds/MWh.
The Obama-era rule had capped emissions at 1,400 pounds CO2/MWh.
"Today's actions reflect our approach of defining new, clean coal standards by data and the latest technological information, not wishful thinking," EPA's air chief, Bill Wehrum, said in the draft release.
The pending announcement of the rule change drew sharply diverging reactions.
Speaking on the floor this morning, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) framed the rollback as another step toward ending the "war on coal," noting that he led a resolution during the Obama administration that would have nixed it.
"When we blocked the legislation he originally pitched, President Obama chose to go it alone and try to implement aggressive regulations, often bending the rule of law in the process," McConnell said.
"When we used the tools available to us to bring relief to American families, we were met each time with vetoes," he said. "But everything changed when the American people elected President Trump."
McConnell added that rolling back the rule would give coal "a level playing field," though U.S. coal consumption still appears poised to continue its steep downward trend (Climatewire, Dec. 5).
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member Tom Carper (D-Del.) said this morning the expected rollback is "ironic," coming on the heels of several high-profile climate reports and during U.N. climate talks in Poland.
"It has more to do with messaging than actually getting results," Carper said.
Environmental groups slammed the proposal as moving in the opposite direction of controlling emissions from what the recent U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report and the most recent National Climate Assessment deemed necessary.
"We have to figure out how to virtually eliminate the emissions from coal plants and other fossil fuel plants as quickly as we can," said David Doniger, senior strategic director of the climate and clean energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
In order to do that, the country should either be phasing coal plants out or adopting CCS to avoid emitting as much carbon as possible. He noted that natural gas producers and other industries would also need to do more to capture their own emissions.
"We should be trying to expand the use of carbon capture and storage, not abandon it," Doniger said.
Jay Duffy, a legal associate at Clean Air Task Force, pointed out EPA's new target for emissions reductions was even higher than the Obama administration's estimate of total carbon emissions from a coal-fired power plant with emissions controls.
"This is a get-out-of-jail-free card," Duffy said.
The National Association of Manufacturers, by contrast, called the changes a "more realistic approach" to rulemaking.
In a statement, Ross Eisenberg, vice president for energy and resources policy, called the Obama rule a "de facto ban" on new coal-fired power plants.
Reporters Nick Sobczyk, Christa Marshall and Robin Bravender contributed.