Advocates call on EPA to cut climate pollution from Pa.’s power sector | Tuesday Morning Coffee

They called for ‘robust carbon pollution standards for new and existing power plants’

By: - April 18, 2023 7:20 am

Transmission lines in Louisa County, Va. (Photo by Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

A broad coalition of Pennsylvania-based environmental groups and other advocacy organizations are calling on federal regulators to ‘accelerate [their] efforts to decarbonize the nation’s power sector,’ arguing that the industry is responsible for dumping billions of tons of pollutants into the atmosphere.

“Cutting power sector pollution would also create massive benefits for public health. Reducing deadly air pollutants like soot, smog, and mercury, can prevent hundreds of thousands of premature deaths nationwide,” the groups wrote in a Tuesday letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan that was shared with the Capital-Star.

“Air pollution from the power sector is also a key driver of environmental injustice,” the letter continued. “Eliminating this pollution can help reduce the disproportionate health impact of pollution that low-income and communities of color have borne for decades.”

As part of its cleanup efforts, the federal government’s “efforts must include robust carbon pollution standards for new and existing power plants,” the advocates wrote.

In all, 23 organizations, which also included Christian and Jewish religious congregations and advocacy groups, signed the letter. It was led by the environmental group Evergreen Action, which was formed by former staffers of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

Pennsylvania’s power generating sector is “the third-dirtiest in the country, emitting nearly 80 million metric tons of CO2 in 2021, the state’s highest total since 2016,” the advocates wrote.

“Cleaning up the power sector also enables decarbonization of other sectors of the economy and is therefore the linchpin to a just, inclusive, and thriving clean energy transition,” they wrote.

Pennsylvania families and communities “need the EPA to move further and faster to reduce carbon pollution and deadly soot, smog, and mercury from our power plants. Pennsylvania is one of the largest electricity producers in the country, and two-thirds of our power is still generated by fossil fuels,”  Joseph Otis Minott, the executive director and chief counsel of Clean Air Council, said in a statement. “President [Joe] Biden entered office with a bold commitment to clean up the power sector, and now is the time to act.”

Keystone Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant in Armstrong County, about 50 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

The fight over fossil fuels — and the future of Pennsylvania’s energy sector — remains one of the central policy debates confronting state lawmakers and the Shapiro administration.

Republicans and their allies have challenged the former Wolf administration’s decision to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, an interstate carbon credit compact, arguing that ex-Gov. Tom Wolf should have sought legislative authorization because the revenue derived from it amounts to a tax.

Although the state’s membership in the compact is currently tied up in state court, Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro’s budget proposal for the fiscal year that starts July 1 pencils in $663 million in anticipated revenue from the compact.

During an appearance before the Pennsylvania Press Club on Monday, Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman, R-Indiana, kept up that drumbeat of criticism, pointing out that fossil fuels still compromise the majority of the state’s power generators.

“We [have] … to stop being naive about how we actually produce electricity,” Pittman said, as he answered a question about the pivot to electric vehicles, and the electricity capacity needed to power them.

Critics need to ask themselves whether they “understand where the sources of electricity truly come from in the magnitudes that we need? It’s natural gas, it’s coal, and it’s nuclear,” Pittman said. “And that’s not a biased statement. Look at the [multi-state] PJM power grid, and you’ll see it for yourself.”

Elizabeth Biser, secretary of NC Department of Environmental Quality, and EPA Administrator Michael Regan spoke in Maysville about new funding for small utilities to address PFAS contamination in their drinking water. (Photo: Lisa Sorg/NC PolicyWatch)
Elizabeth Biser, secretary of NC Department of Environmental Quality, and EPA Administrator Michael Regan spoke in Maysville about new funding for small utilities to address PFAS contamination in their drinking water. (Photo: Lisa Sorg/NC PolicyWatch)

In their letter to Regan, the advocates called for a number of reforms to meet the goals of both the Inflation Reduction Act and the Paris Climate Accords.

They include:

  • “Setting ambitious carbon pollution standards for new and existing power plants under sections 111(b) and 111(d) of the Clean Air Act. By pairing the [Inflation Reduction Act] with strong EPA carbon standards for power plants, the Biden administration could cut power sector carbon pollution to 77 percent below 2005 levels and achieve a 76 percent clean electrical grid by the end of this decade.
  • “Setting other EPA pollution standards that reduce conventional air and water pollutants and improve public health. EPA has long-standing legal authority to regulate sources of air, water, and other pollution under key environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. EPA should act quickly to execute an agenda that harmonizes many of the regulations in a multi-pollutant strategy to decrease pollution from the power sector,” and
  • Implementing the Inflation Reduction Act effectively, efficiently, and equitably. The law’s “climate and clean energy provisions can bring down power sector carbon emissions to 66 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. But these reductions will only be realized if EPA implements the programs effectively and efficiently, with timely federal guidance on tax credits and grant programs and the distribution of funds in a way that maximizes carbon reductions and equitable economic opportunity,” they wrote.

“We urge bold, decisive action because, unfortunately, EPA is falling behind schedule on seven out of ten critical rules. Without further concerted effort, the agency risks leaving this crucial business undone at the end of President Biden’s first term,” the advocates wrote.

“Issuing final rules in the months before the 2024 election also leaves them open to possible repeal by the Congressional Review Act, meaning EPA could not issue any rule ‘substantially the same’ without new legislation,” they continued.

“We urge EPA to move more expeditiously in power sector pollution rule-making, accelerating the road to clean power and ensuring critical regulations are not left vulnerable to the Congressional Review Act,” they concluded.

Read the letter:

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press.