Environmental advocates rallied at the steps of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) headquarters on Tuesday, applauding the agency’s efforts to cut climate-harming pollution from power plants but saying its proposed standards don’t go far enough.
The Climate Action Campaign and other groups say they have delivered over one million public comments to the EPA on its proposed rule to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from these facilities, which was introduced in May.
If finalized, the EPA’s new standards would reduce carbon pollution by 617 million metric tons and would benefit human health, avoiding 1,300 premature deaths and preventing over 300,000 asthma attacks, according to the agency.
The EPA rules would require plants to either install carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology capable of capturing 90% of carbon dioxide emissions or to combust a blend of hydrogen and natural gas. The agency’s emissions rule should be finalized by April 2024, said a spokesperson for the Climate Action Campaign, although plants may not be required to comply with emission limits until 2030 or so.
“EPA’s proposal is a critically important step forward,” said Margie Alt, Executive Director of the Climate Action Campaign, in an email. “Given the climate threats we are facing, we are calling for the EPA to finalize a standard that achieves even greater pollution reductions from more sources on the fastest possible timeline.”
“In addition, the administration must aggressively seek input from communities most affected by the climate crisis and power plant pollution — both on general safeguards and individual projects — and must adopt strong community protections including rigorous monitoring and verification of emissions, enforcement against violations, and engagement with communities,” she said.
Last June, a Supreme Court decision stated that the EPA does not have authority to shift US energy production away from coal and towards cleaner energy, limiting the agency’s ability to curb greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants. Even so, activists say the EPA has room to exercise its authority and cut climate pollution.
Record heat heightens climate concerns
The call for EPA action comes after the planet’s hottest July on record, with communities across the US suffering from sizzling hot summer weather brought on by human-caused climate change. In Phoenix, Arizona, temperatures stayed at or above 110 degrees Fahrenheit for a record-breaking 31 days, leading to concerns about community members’ health.
Power plants are the largest source of greenhouse gas pollution in the US, says the EPA. Their greenhouse gas emissions contribute to harmful climate change, the driving force behind the extraordinary summer heat.
“It’s even hotter at the airport, as we’re surrounded by asphalt,” said Shellilyn Marie, an employee who assists passengers who use wheelchairs at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, at today’s rally.
“It can feel like we’re in an oven,” she said. “Sometimes, temperatures feel as high as 130 degrees in the jet bridges that have no [air conditioning] at all.” Since Marie started working at the airport in May, she said has experienced asthma attacks. Both Marie and her coworkers sometimes get headaches and see stars, she said.
In addition for asking the EPA to finalize “the strongest possible standards” to curb power plant pollution that contributes to climate change, Marie called for employers to step up efforts to address climate change.
“It is a health crisis,” said Doris Browne, former president of the National Medical Association. “The National Medical Association sees now as the best opportunity for stronger EPA standards for fossil fuel power plants to be implemented. It is the urgency of now.”
Too strict or ineffective?
However, not everyone supports the standards the EPA has proposed. The Edison Electric Institute (EEI), a major US electric utilities lobbying group, has said in a draft comment that the standards are too strict and require technology that would be hard to install.
Some environmental advocates, including Clean Energy Group, have expressed their own concerns about the proposed rules, fearing they would not be effective and could actually result in more nitrogen oxide air pollution.
“CCS is only in operation at one active power plant in the world, the technology has never sustained a 90% emissions capture rate, and the additional fuel required to power the technology leads to an increase in nitrogen oxide emissions of anywhere from 5%-60%,” wrote Clean Energy Group in its comments to the EPA.
Combusting hydrogen leads to six times more nitrogen oxide emissions than natural gas, the group said, adding that hydrogen also has a short-term global warming impact 35 times higher than that of carbon dioxide.
“The Agency looks forward to reviewing comments and constructively engaging with stakeholders as we work to finalize the proposed standards,” said an EPA spokesperson.
(Featured image: Environmental advocates call for stronger standards on power plant pollution outside the EPA headquarters in Washington, DC. Photo by Shannon Kelleher.)