Over 999,000 readers this year!

Wyoming officials respond to new power plant rules from EPA

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today that it has proposed new carbon pollution standards for coal and natural gas-fired power plants.

Naughton Power Plant (Office of Gov. Mark Gordon)

GILLETTE, Wyo. — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today the proposed new carbon pollution standards for coal and natural gas-fired power plants.

The agency said in a news release that the standards will protect the climate and public health. Several Wyoming officials aren’t pleased with the proposals.

The EPA’s proposals

According to its draft proposal, the EPA is considering doing the following:

  • Revising new source performance standards for greenhouse gas emissions from new fossil fuel–fired stationary combustion turbine electric generating units
  • Revising new source performance standards for greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel–fired steam generating units that undertake a large modification, based upon the eight-year review required by the Clean Air Act
  • Proposing emission guidelines for greenhouse gas emissions from existing fossil fuel–fired steam-generating electric generating units, which include both coal-fired and oil/gas-fired steam-generating electric generating units
  • Proposing emission guidelines for greenhouse gas emissions from the largest, most frequently operated existing stationary combustion turbines and soliciting comment on approaches for emission guidelines for greenhouse gas emissions for the remainder of the existing combustion turbine category
  • Repealing the Trump Administration’s Affordable Clean Energy Rule

Since carbon capture technology and low greenhouse gas hydrogen co-firing for gas plants are more cost-effective for larger power plants, the EPA proposed different standards for power plants based on capacity, intended length of operation and frequency of operation, according to the release. States developing plans for existing sources must communicate with stakeholders, including communities disproportionately burdened by pollution and climate change impacts, and energy communities and workers.

More specific details regarding the proposals themselves begin on page 16.

According to a fact sheet, the EPA wants states to present plans to the agency within 24 months of the effective date of the guidelines. To ensure transparency, the state plans must include a website where power plants publish details regarding their compliance with the state plan. Existing steam-generating units must start complying with the standards by Jan. 1, 2030. Existing combustion turbine units must start complying with their standards of performance on Jan. 1, 2032, or Jan. 1, 2035, depending on their subcategory. States would publish performance standards for power plants and apply the EPA’s framework for deciding when there could be less stringent standards. To apply lower standards, the state must prove that a facility can’t achieve the standard.

The EPA’s reasoning

According to the EPA, the proposal would avoid up to 617 million metric tons of total carbon dioxide through 2042, which is equivalent to reducing the annual emissions of 137 million passenger vehicles. The agency estimates the standard’s net climate and health benefits could reach $85 billion. They’d cut tens of thousands of tons of air pollutants including particulate matter, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. In 2030 alone, the proposed standards would prevent about 1,300 premature deaths, more than 800 hospital and emergency room visits, more than 300,000 cases of asthma attacks, 38,000 school absence days and 66,000 lost workdays.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan said the proposal supports EPA’s mission to reduce pollution that threatens people’s health and well-being.

“EPA’s proposal relies on proven, readily available technologies to limit carbon pollution and seizes the momentum already underway in the power sector to move toward a cleaner future,” Regan said. “Alongside historic investment taking place across America in clean energy manufacturing and deployment, these proposals will help deliver tremendous benefits to the American people — cutting climate pollution and other harmful pollutants, protecting people’s health, and driving American innovation.”

The proposal requires power plants to reduce carbon pollution with proven, cost-effective control technologies, the EPA said. Power companies and grid operators will have time to make sound long-term planning and investment decisions that support the power sector’s continued delivery of reliable, affordable electricity. They have long-term regulatory and operational flexibility.

“EPA’s analysis found that power companies can implement the standards with a negligible impact on electricity prices, well within the range of historical fluctuations,” the release said.

The EPA and the Department of Energy signed a memorandum of understanding in March to support grid reliability and resiliency at every stage as the EPA works to reduce pollution, protect public health and deliver environmental and economic benefits.

The power sector has several options, like carbon capture and storage, for using technology to deploy clean energy, reduce pollution, provide union jobs and reduce energy costs, the EPA said.

The EPA’s proposal follows guidance from the Council on Environmental Quality to ensure that the advancement of carbon capture, utilization and sequestration technologies incorporates the input of communities and is heavily research-based. The EPA will engage with communities and stakeholders to promote responsible deployment of carbon capture and sequestration.

Since 2005, the power sector has reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 36% and kept pace with growing energy demand, the EPA said. The Inflation Reduction Act’s investments in pollution control technologies and clean energy will help the country have a cleaner, healthier future.

The EPA projects the proposals for existing gas-fired plants and the third phase of the new source performance standards could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 407 million metric tons. The agency will complete additional advanced modeling, align methodologies across the rulemaking and consider real-world scenarios within the power sector to best understand how components of the rule impact each other. The proposals reflect the best system of emission reduction to improve the emissions performance of the sources, taking into account costs and energy requirements.

The EPA said it’s proposing to repeal the Affordable Clean Energy rule because that rule’s emission guidelines don’t reflect the best system of emission reduction for steam-generating electric generating units and aren’t consistent with section 111 of the Clean Air Act.

President Joe Biden’s Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization has identified historic resources for energy communities to invest in infrastructure, deploy new technologies that can help clean up the electric power sector, support energy workers and spur long-term economic revitalization.

Wyomingites’ responses

Powder River Basin Resource Council Board Member Lynne Huskinson, who’s from Gillette, said in a statement:

“While we appreciate the Environmental Protection Agency’s attempts to curb pollution from power plants, we believe they are on the wrong track by encouraging further subsidies and investments in carbon capture (CCS) technology. Carbon capture on coal-fired power plants has proven to be expensive to install and has fallen short in reaching its goals.

“There is only one coal-fired plant with CCS operating in the world, Saskatchewan’s Boundary Dam Unit 3, and it only captures about half the carbon they projected. The only coal plant with CCS to operate in the United States was Petra Nova on the W.A. Parish coal plant in Texas, which shut down in 2020, but only after it cost $1 billion to build, with $200 million of that in federal subsidies. The Kemper carbon capture project in Mississippi never even went into operation after its projected costs rose to over $7 billion.

“Now looking at these failures, we ask why would the administration choose this costly and unproven technology to curb carbon pollution? Carbon capture technology on coal plants is unlikely to curb carbon emissions, will only pump more federal dollars into the coal industry, cost ratepayers more money on their monthly utility bills, and delay the transition to renewable energy.”

Gov. Mark Gordon said the rule is “a heavy-handed, top-down approach” that neither targets emissions nor supports innovation through carbon capture and storage but rather complicates Wyoming’s submitted state plan for climate pollution reduction, increases costs for power plant operators and threatens grid stability.

“One has to wonder if this Administration has their head in the sand to be so tone deaf,” he said. “Instead of encouraging states with diverse and ample energy sources to chart a course towards energy independence and economic diversity, this misinformed, conflicting, and altogether unworkable program ignores the essential role that carbon capture must play in a reliable energy future. … EPA must work with states on solutions that meet the needs of those states, rather than release edicts from afar that will destroy Wyoming jobs and communities, such as this proposed rule.”

U.S. Senator Cynthia Lummis, R-WY, said the EPA’s proposal would enact standards that are impossible to meet, so coal and natural gas-fired power plants will ultimately shut down, destroying American jobs and increasing reliance on foreign countries.

“This makes no sense,” she said. “It is short-sighted and it directly contradicts the Supreme Court’s ruling in West Virginia v. EPA.”

“For existing coal-fired power plants like the ones operating in Wyoming, the EPA is proposing those in operation beyond 2040 sequester 90% of their carbon emissions. This is an egregiously unrealistic target that is not feasible based on current carbon capture technology,” she said.

In West Virginia v. EPA, the Supreme Court struck down the 2015 Clean Power Plan, holding that Congress didn’t give the EPA the authority to regulate emissions from existing power plants based on generation-shifting mechanisms.

How to respond

The EPA will take comment on the proposals for 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. It will also hold a virtual public hearing and publish more information on its website. Registration for the public hearing will open after the proposal is published in the Federal Register.

The agency will host webinars at noon June 6 and 3:30 p.m. June 7 to inform communities and Tribes about the proposal and the public comment process. 

Register to attend the June 6 webinar here.

Register to attend the June 7 webinar here.