• The EPA power plant rule would effectively close down all baseload coal power plants and prevent them from being replaced with natural gas plants
  • The rule coincides dangerously with the Biden administration’s efforts to make Americans even more heavily reliant on electricity
  • It also violates the separation of powers, asserting authority Congress didn’t give and the Supreme Court had already struck down

A new power plant rule by the Environmental Protection Agency calls for all baseload coal- and natural gas–fired power plants to adopt a severe and as-yet-unproven carbon-capturing plan — or shut down. This rule spells disaster for the nation’s electric grid and promises only high costs and high unreliability to electricity consumers, rich or poor, family or business.

North Carolina Congressman Richard Hudson said that, “In yet another attempt to enforce its far-left climate agenda, Biden’s EPA is pushing new burdensome rules that’ll shut down power plants, weaken our electric grid and hike up costs. The Biden administration continues to put America’s energy security last.”

A coalition of energy policy groups have joined a letter by the Competitive Enterprise Institute urging Congress to pass an expected Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution of disapproval to overturn the EPA’s regulatory overreach. The John Locke Foundation’s Center for Food, Power, and Life is among the co-signers for several reasons made explicit in the letter.

The EPA rule will destroy baseload power generation from coal

The importance of baseload power generation is, it’s the always-needed amount of power underlying our hourly and daily fluctuations of power demand. It’s the most critical power supply.

The rule would have a coal power plant install by 2032 “carbon capture” equipment that must capture at least 90 percent of its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Otherwise, the EPA offers two “alternative” compliance options: close now or close later. As the letter explains, “A coal powerplant can avoid the expense of installing a carbon-capture system if it (a) commits to shut down by January 1, 2032, or (b) commits to shut down by December 31, 2039, and repowers with 40 percent natural gas by January 1, 2030.”

Only two plants in the U.S. have carbon-capture equipment. The letter describes how they were heavily subsidized, have been highly problematic, and also have a unique ability to sell their captured CO2 to companies doing enhanced oil recovery work.

The EPA rule will kneecap new baseload generation from natural gas

Not only will the EPA rule deliberately shut down one form of baseload generation, it will work overtime to prevent another form from taking its place. It would impose the same, 90 percent carbon-capture requirement on new baseload natural gas plants.

There are no utility-scale natural gas plants anywhere in America operating with such equipment.

The EPA rule will drive electricity costs much, much higher — and render what power we get to be intermittent and thoroughly unreliable, especially during temperature extremes when electricity is all the more vital

The remaining options for American electricity generation are nuclear, which is capable of baseload production but which take longer to build owing to permitting obstruction and administrative slow-walking and opposition, and weather-dependent sources like solar and wind, which require expensive overbuilding because they are so unreliable that the only way to approximate reliability is to (a) build eight plants for when one coal or natural gas plant of the same capacity would have sufficed and (b) hook them up to extremely expensive battery arrays that can last only up to four hours.

Furthermore, the EPA rule comes as demand for electricity is set to skyrocket owing to “the proliferation of data centers, expansion of Artificial Intelligence, onshoring of chip production, and the EPA’s and California’s policies to forcibly electrify U.S. motor vehicle fleets.”

The letter notes that:

PJM Interconnection warns: “The future demand for electricity cannot be met simply through renewables given their intermittent nature. Yet in the very years when we are projecting significant increases in the demand for electricity, the Final Rule may work to drive premature retirement of coal units that provide essential reliability services and dissuade new gas resources from coming online.”

The Biden administration seeks to make Americans even more heavily reliant on electricity while taking away their power companies’ ability to provide it reliably. It’s a monumentally foolish combination.

The EPA rule will cripple our economy

Electricity is an input cost to everything in our economy. When families and businesses have to spend so much more on power (and on private systems of backup power because our electricity provision has become so unreliable), they have that much less to spend on other needs. Our purchasing power will have declined sharply. We will all be poorer because of it.

The EPA rule is an unconstitutional power grab

It represents an abuse of power by the executive branch in defiance of Congress (the legislative branch) and the Supreme Court (the judicial branch). As the letter explains with respect to coal,

The bottom line is that, for coal power plants, 90-percent carbon capture is not an “adequately demonstrated” “best system of emission reduction” (BSER), taking “cost” and “energy requirements” into account, and thus is not a lawful basis for setting emission standards under Section 111 of the Clean Air Act (CAA). …

It could not be clearer that the rule aims to drive coal generation out of U.S. electricity markets. Indeed, the EPA itself estimates that, by 2045, coal generation will decline by 94 percent compared to the prior policy baseline (Regulatory Impact Analysis, Table D-10).

As in the Clean Power Plan, the EPA is promulgating “emission performance standards” that are, in fact, non-performance mandates. “Perform less or not at all” is not a valid performance standard under CAA Section 111.

It’s the same problem as with natural gas: there is no “adequately demonstrated” basis for forcing the 90 percent carbon-capture requirement.

In sum:

In West Virginia v. EPA, the Supreme Court made it clear that CAA Section 111 does not authorize the EPA to act as the nation’s grid manager or resolve the national debate on climate policy with respect to a fundamental industrial sector. If Congress wanted the agency to possess such authority, it would have said so in clear terms. Congress has not done so, yet the EPA is still trying to assert an expansive transformation of its regulatory power. As in the CPP, the EPA ignores the separation of powers that is vital to the nation’s republican form of government.

The power to craft rules is a delegated legislative power. An executive branch agency does not have the constitutional authority to circumvent lawmaking by elected senators and representatives who are, unlike them, accountable to the voters. The CRA was designed specifically for Congress to assert their constitutional lawmaking authority against a rogue agency by overturning rules like this. This remedy is preferable to waiting for the courts to uphold their own precedent against the same agency that has already been defeated in such a power grab before.