United States – The announcement by the Biden administration that the U.S. natural gas fleet is exempt from the future set of carbon emissions norms enables doubt about the country’s ability to meet its climate goals, according to the research findings.

Controlling the U.S. power industry, the major source of carbon waste, has been the centerpiece of President Joe Biden’s strategy for de-greening the nation’s economy by 2050, the primary challenge of the international community on climate change, as reported by Reuters.

Key Development

However, in a strange twist of events, late last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared that it would no longer include existing gas plants (which account for more than 40% of U.S. power sector greenhouse emissions) in the final rule- a decision that came only after months of the industry’s bitter objection.

Since the standards would not come into effect before 2030, the existing gas plant rule can be considered the least contributor to the near-term goals. To reduce emissions from these plants, it would be imperative for U.S. climate goals to be achieved beyond 2030, said Ben King, associate director of Rhodium Group’s energy and climate practice.

“Once you retire or mitigate a bunch of emissions from the coal fleet, then what you are left within the power sector is a bunch of gas that you need to figure out what to do with,” he said. “Utilities and grid operators need to really start planning for that now.”

Future Regulation

Visual Representation | Credit : Getty images

The EPA states it will also compile a thin rule specifically targeting CO2 emission from the existing gas plants and others once the rest of the regulation has been finalized at a later time throughout the spring, but it never specifies when exactly.

Crafting and approving a regulation are a long process that can last from nine months to a year, and the agency can’t see past the prospect of the next general election, which is to take place the following November. Should Joe Biden’s reelection campaign fail, and the Republican Donald Trump win the style of the hat worn by the President, then the effort would likely be abandoned.

“The Trump administration displayed enormous hostility to environmental protections for American communities when they were in power,” said Trevor Higgins, senior vice president for energy and environment at the left-wing think tank Center for American Progress.

“They intend to roll back and halt climate policy across the board.”

Industry Statistics and Projections

Natural gas plants accounted for 43% of power sector greenhouse gas emissions per the latest data from the EPA, and it is expected that natural gas power will overtake coal as biggest source of greenhouse gas exhaust from the industry by 2028, as forecasted by the EIA.

The proposal removes the requirement, allowing gas-fired plants larger than 400 MW to start installing carbon capture equipment after 2032 or use 30% hydrogen co-firing after 2032. The utilities opposed the idea, saying it was too unreasonable.

EPA’s Estimated Impact

EPA, when initially disclosing the regulations, suggested that the part that applied to the existing gas plants would result in reductions of between 214- 407 metric tons of carbon dioxide between 2028-2042, which is roughly 6% of the total US CO2 emissions that is discharged during a year.

The EPA’s power plant standards set off problems for the U.S. power industry from the beginning, in part because the utilities were pretty sure that gas plants would be exempt altogether.

For nearly a year, EPA officials had worked on a proposed rule covering coal and new gas plants, but along came the existence of gas facilities as part of a White House review, which is a couple of weeks before the May release, according to regulatory documents.

The White House and EPA failed to render a reason for henceforth the last-minute incorporation.

Industry representatives or environmental justice activists, on the other hand, alleged that the proposed rules for existing gas plants could even fail because utilities will resort to using wavey but smaller plants that are outside the regulation, thus avoiding the expensive upgrades to the bigger plants, as reported by Reuters.

An EPA spokesperson acknowledged the shortcomings of the rule.

“The 2023 proposal for existing gas-fired power plants focused only on large baseload natural gas-fired power plants, considered a limited range of technology options, and initially included separate analyses of available technical information at the time to support different parts of the proposal,” EPA spokesperson Tim Carroll said.

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