The Biden administration rolled out yet another piece of its climate plan today, as the Environmental Protection Agency proposed new regulations to limit the greenhouse gases emitted by electric power plants fueled by coal and methane (so-called “natural” gas). As the New York Times puts it in an admirably simple and accurate sentence,
The nation’s 3,400 coal- and gas-fired power plants currently generate about 25 percent of greenhouse gases produced by the United States, pollution that is dangerously heating the planet.
Instead of mandating any particular technology, the rules set caps on rates of carbon dioxide pollution that plants can release, leaving it up to energy producers to find ways to meet the goal of eliminating CO2 emissions by 2040. If industry can find ways to capture all CO2 from smokestacks — technology that doesn’t exist yet — then great. But it’s more likely that utilities would have to switch to green energy, or for gas plants, to burning green hydrogen (the kind produced without fossil fuels), which emits no carbon.
And while the EPA doesn’t say it, we’re happy to: The faster the US and the world adopt solar and wind electricity, the cheaper that electricity will be per megawatt hour. According to an Oxford University study published in September, a rapid transition away from fossil fuels to wind and solar could save the world $12 trillion by 2050, which would help offset other costs of the transition like grid upgrades and developing reliable storage/backup/distribution of clean energy. Going slow, on the other hand, will cost more and result in greater climate caused damage.
The EPA press release says the regulations will
avoid up to 617 million metric tons of total carbon dioxide (CO2) through 2042, which is equivalent to reducing the annual emissions of 137 million passenger vehicles, roughly half the cars in the United States. Through 2042, EPA estimates the net climate and health benefits of the standards on new gas and existing coal-fired power plants are up to $85 billion.
The EPA emphasizes the public health benefits of not burning all that stuff, which doesn’t just contribute to global warming but releases nasties like particulates, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides into the air Americans breathe, especially in communities nearest to power plants, which tend to be home to poor and minority people because America. In addition to helping to keep the planet more habitable for large mammals like gazelles and the NCAA Final Four champion men’s and women’s teams, the proposed standards would mean huge health gains. In 2030 alone, the EPA says, cleaner air resulting from the new standards would prevent
• approximately 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.
Under the new rules, virtually all coal and methane gas plants would be required to either reduce or capture 90 percent of their carbon emissions by 2038, or shut down. Currently, roughly a quarter of American coal plants are already scheduled to be retired by 2029, per the US Energy Information Agency.
Needless to say, industry groups and Republican state officials are at this very moment working on the first drafts of legal challenges to the policy, written as is traditional with the congealed blood of seals and dolphins killed by oil spills. The Times reports that West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) is already declaring the EPA plan DOA in the courts, whining that “It 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.” Stupid not-wanting-climate-catastrophe Biden!
Sen. Joe Manchin (“D”-West Virginia), whose family fortune is built on selling some of the filthiest coal available — a mining waste slurry called “gob” coal that’s particularly carbon intensive — also threatened today that he will oppose any new Biden appointees to the EPA unless the plan is dropped. Manchin griped that the administration is
“determined to advance its radical climate agenda and has made it clear they are hellbent on doing everything in their power to regulate coal- and gas-fueled power plants out of existence, no matter the cost to energy security and reliability.”
Also, fuck the future, the man has money at stake, and he hasn’t spent a career lining his own nest with filthy feathers from crows with black lung disease just to watch it all go away because people in the tropical regions think they “deserve” to live.
So yeah, kids, this is going to be a fight between the wealthy bastards who want to keep pumping the atmosphere full of planet-heating pollutants, and the first president ever whose administration is actually taking the action needed to get close to meeting the US’s commitments to decarbonization by midcentury, which all nations need to do in order to hold warming to non-catastrophic levels.
When you combine the anticipated greenhouse gas reductions from the EPA’s recent vehicle emissions standards, its methane reduction standards, and the power plant emissions standards announced today, the Times reports, the total emissions that would be eliminated would be around 15 billion tons of CO2 by 2055, or
roughly the amount of pollution generated by the entire United States economy over three years. Several analyses have projected that the Inflation Reduction Act will cut emissions by at least another billion tons by 2030.
That could put the nation on track to meet Mr. Biden’s pledge that the United States would cut its greenhouse gases in half by 2030 and stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere altogether by 2050, although analysts point out that more policies will need to be enacted to reach the latter target.
And that, children, puts the world within what I’ll call realistic hoping distance of actually meeting the Paris Climate Agreement goal of limiting warming since the start of the industrial age to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). It would require all countries doing the same as or better than the Biden plan is close to accomplishing, so yeah, that’s freaking difficult. But doable, genuinely doable, according to the climate boffins. The Times again:
“Each of these several regulations from the E.P.A. are contributing to the whole picture that is necessary to steer this ocean liner away from the worst climate disaster,” said Dallas Burtraw, an economist with Resources for the Future, a nonpartisan research organization that focuses on energy and environmental policy.
Also I just remembered that we were going to do some kind of Wonkette Book Club on Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2020 climate novel The Ministry for the Future (Wonkette-gets-a-cut link), so I guess I’d better actually make a plan and write it up for tomorrow, damn my eyes.
Let’s choose hope. But back it up with action.
[EPA / NYT / Oxford University / AP / NBC News / Photo: American Wind Energy Association, used by permission]
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