NRDC: EPA Issues Power Plant Standards

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration’s Environmental Protection Agency released new pollution standards for power plants, addressing one of the largest sources of carbon, air and water pollution in the nation. These four separate EPA rules cover: carbon emissions, toxic air pollution, coal ash, and wastewater discharges into waterways. 

The carbon standards are significant, with the reductions over the next two decades on par with the total annual greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector in 2023 – while also reducing the pollution that causes asthma, heart attacks, lung disease, and, even, premature death. 

Together with ongoing industry trends and the 2022 climate law, these rules put the power sector on track to cut emissions by 75 percent in 2035 from their peak three decades earlier. 

The following is a statement from Manish Bapna, president and CEO of NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council): 

“The age of unbridled climate pollution from power plants is over. These standards cut carbon emissions, at last, from the single largest industrial source. They fit hand-in-glove with the clean energy incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act to make sure we cut our carbon footprint. They will reduce other dangerous pollutants that foul the air we breathe and threaten our health.”

“These standards will drive down carbon emissions and energy costs. They’ll drive up investment, innovation, and good jobs in the clean energy economy of the future. That’s what beating the climate crisis demands. It’s what the law requires. They provide the certainty industry needs to meet growing demand in the cleanest, cheapest, most reliable way possible.

“The job is not done. Existing gas-fired power plants are massive carbon emitters. They kick out other dangerous pollution that most hurts low-income communities and people of color. The EPA must cut all of that pollution – and soon – in a way that confronts the climate crisis and protects frontline communities."


EPA is issuing four separate regulations for power plants today: 

  • carbon standards for power plants; 
  • technology updates to the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) for power plants that burn coal and oil; 
  • rules to reduce discharges of wastewater to prevent arsenic, mercury, and other pollutants from contaminating waterways, wildlife, and drinking water sources; 
  • an extension of coal combustion waste disposal rules to “legacy” coal ash dumps at both active and inactive power plants. 

In addition to the EPA, the Department of Energy announced a series of measures that will help spur the construction of the new transmission lines needed to connect more reliable and affordable clean energy to the grid. 

For more on these EPA rules, what they will do and how they fit into the overall, historic carbon reductions taking place in the country, please see this blog from Amanda Levin. For more on the changes the EPA made in the final rules, see this blog from Meredith Hankins.  

Power plants are responsible for a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., and these EPA standards are long overdue. In fact, because EPA determined in 2009 that greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare, the agency is required to curb this pollution. 

These standards address pollution from existing coal and new gas power plants. Standards already exist for new coal plants. Earlier this year, EPA said it would be re-proposing standards for existing gas plants in the coming months. 

According to EPA’s analysis, these final standards will cut carbon emissions by about 1.4 billion tons over the next 23 years and deliver $390 billion in total climate and health benefits – 20 times the costs to industry. In addition, they will reduce soot, smog and mercury pollution that cause asthma, heart attacks, lung disease, and, even, premature death. In just 2035 alone the rules are expected to prevent 1,200 premature deaths and 360,000 asthma attacks, EPA’s analysis found. 

As important as these coal and new gas standards are, EPA needs to finish the job by limiting emissions from existing gas power plants. EPA has begun the process of developing standards for those existing gas plants, and it will need to follow through with strong standards – that cover both carbon pollution and other health-harming pollutants from those plants. 

NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Established in 1970, NRDC uses science, policy, law, and people power to confront the climate crisis, protect public health, and safeguard nature. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, Beijing and Delhi (an office of NRDC India Pvt. Ltd). Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC. 

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