Biden’s Power-Plant Crackdown Shows His 2035 Grid Goals May Be Out of Grasp

Source: By Jennifer A Dlouhy, Bloomberg • Posted: Sunday, May 14, 2023

A bulldozer moves coal that will be burned to generate electricity at a power plant in Winfield, West Virginia.

A bulldozer moves coal that will be burned to generate electricity at a power plant in Winfield, West Virginia. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

President Joe Biden campaigned on a goal of decarbonizing the US power grid by 2035. But his EPA just proposed limits on power plant pollution that signal that target could be out of reach.

Instead, the Environmental Protection Agency plan would allow some coal-fired power plants to keep operating through the end of the next decade as long as they swap in some cleaner-burning natural gas. Large gas-fired units could get until 2038 to transition to burning almost entirely hydrogen at the sites. And smaller units  — those generating the bulk of US gas-fired power — wouldn’t face any new requirements.

Critics say the proposed regulation is a tacit acknowledgment of the massive scale of the transition required across the US power sector — and the challenges the country faces adding vast amounts of renewable resources to replace coal and gas plants while meeting growing demand from electric vehicles and appliances.

White House National Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi emphasized the proposed regulation is meant to set rules of the road “that can help facilitate and reinforce that shift,” already being spurred by hundreds of billions of dollars in incentives for renewable power, nuclear plants and other clean energy technology. “We are driving a transformation that will help us absolutely meet the president’s goal.”

Environmental advocates stressed the EPA’s standards provide a floor — not a ceiling — for what’s possible. “The standard setting has to be based on what is actually achievable on the ground,” said Lissa Lynch, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. But the US can “meet the needs of the moment and the science based on the reality of the technology that’s available.”

The EPA could change its plan before finalizing it next year. Even so, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said it’s just one among “a suite of actions that have been taken by the entire government” to facilitate the power sector shift. “We believe that where we end up will be squarely in line with the president’s goal of 100% by 2035,” he said.