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EPA Finalizes Suite of Standards to Reduce Pollution from Fossil Fuel-Fired Power Plants

Even more good news for your Earth Week: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced a suite of final rules to reduce pollution from fossil fuel-fired power plants in order to protect all communities from pollution and improve public health without disrupting the delivery of reliable electricity. 

The suite of final rules includes:

  • A final rule for existing coal-fired and new natural gas-fired power plants that would ensure that all coal-fired plants that plan to run in the long-term and all new baseload gas-fired plants control 90 percent of their carbon pollution.  

  • A final rule strengthening and updating the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) for coal-fired power plants, tightening the emissions standard for toxic metals by 67 percent and finalizing a 70 percent reduction in the emissions standard for mercury from existing lignite-fired sources. 

  • A final rule to reduce pollutants discharged through wastewater from coal-fired power plants by more than 660 million pounds per year, ensuring cleaner water for affected communities, including communities with environmental justice concerns that are disproportionately impacted.

  • A final rule that will require the safe management of coal ash that is placed in areas that were unregulated at the federal level until now, including at previously used disposal areas that may leak and contaminate groundwater.

GASP today lauded the announcement.

“These rules will make real strides in cutting climate pollution and protecting public health and our environment. We thank EPA for responding to the urgent need for climate action,” GASP Executive Director Patrick Campbell said. “This is a much-needed step forward in cleaning up our air and water - especially in communities living in the shadow of fossil fuel plants.

The rule addresses existing coal-fired power plants, which continue to be the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector, and ensures that new natural gas combustion turbines, some of the largest new sources of greenhouse gasses being built today, are designed using modern technologies to reduce climate pollution.

The climate and health benefits of this rule substantially outweigh the compliance costs. In 2035 alone, the regulatory impact analysis estimates substantial health co-benefits including:

  • Up to 1,200 avoided premature deaths

  • 870 avoided hospital and emergency room visits

  • 1,900 avoided cases of asthma onset

  • 360,000 avoided cases of asthma symptoms

  • 48,000 avoided school absence days

  • 57,000 lost workdays

The final emission standards and guidelines will achieve substantial reductions in carbon pollution at reasonable cost. The best system of emission reduction for the longest-running existing coal units and most heavily utilized new gas turbines is based on carbon capture and sequestration/storage (CCS) – an available and cost-reasonable emission control technology that can be applied directly to power plants and can reduce 90 percent of carbon dioxide emissions from the plants.

The standard also requires states to provide transparent data on compliance pathways and timelines through the state planning process, ensuring that workers and communities have the best-available information to plan for changes in the sector. 

To view the fact sheet for this rulemaking visit EPA's Greenhouse Gas Standards and Guidelines for Fossil Fuel-Fired Power Plants webpage.

We also wanted to highlight that the EPA is strengthening and updating the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) for coal-fired power plants, achieving important hazardous air pollutant (HAP) emissions reductions and ensuring that the standards reflect the latest advancement in pollution control technologies. 

EPA projects the final rule will reduce emissions of mercury and non-mercury metal HAPs, such as nickel, arsenic, and lead. Controlling these emissions from power plants improves public health for all Americans by reducing the risk of fatal heart attacks, cancer, developmental delays in children, and also reduces adverse environmental impacts. 

The final rule will also result in substantial co-benefits, including reductions in emissions of fine particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and carbon dioxide nationwide. 

The final rule reduces the mercury emissions limit by 70 percent for lignite-fired units and reduces the emissions limit that controls for toxic metals by 67 percent for all coal plants—while also requiring the use of continuous emission monitoring systems to provide real-time, accurate data to ensure that plants are meeting these lower limits and communities are protected year-round from pollution exposure.

EPA's final rule projects $300 million in health benefits and $130 million in climate benefits over the 10-year period from 2028-2037. 

Editor’s Note: You can read the EPA’s entire press release on the suite of rules here.

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