Biden administration will delay a key part of its signature climate policy

The Biden administration announced Thursday it would delay part of its signature climate plan to slash planet-warming pollution from the power sector.

The Environmental Protection Agency said it would carve existing gas plants out of a proposed regulation to cut emissions from power plants. The EPA will move forward with finalizing rules cutting emissions from existing coal and new natural gas plants this spring, and begin work immediately on a separate rule for existing gas plants.

It is yet another sign of an administration under pressure to dial back its ambitious climate policies as President Joe Biden and swing-state Democrats seek re-election in 2024 while facing Republican attacks on energy costs.

The process to propose and enact new federal regulations is lengthy, and a new rule would not be done in time before the election.

“As EPA works towards final standards to cut climate pollution from existing coal and new gas-fired power plants later this spring, the agency is taking a new, comprehensive approach to cover the entire fleet of natural gas-fired turbines, as well as cover more pollutants including climate, toxic and criteria air pollution,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement.

Regan stressed that “this stronger, more durable approach” to starting a separate rulemaking for existing gas plants would “achieve greater emissions reductions than the current proposal,” because it would focus on a wider range of pollutants and air toxins.

The move comes as several environmental justice and climate groups have pressured the EPA to consider a stronger proposal for existing gas plants, complaining in letters to the agency that the proposed rule would have exempted too many facilities.

“We applaud EPA as it moves to finalize urgently needed standards for existing coal plants and new gas plants, and we agree that we must have comprehensive solutions for fossil gas plant pollution,” Abigail Dillen, president of environmental law firm Earthjustice, said in a statement. “This more ambitious strategy will enable EPA to consider technologies that were not considered in its initial proposal and ensure that new standards do not shift pollution to dirty, uncontrolled plants and the communities they pollute.”

Some groups have also been critical of the EPA’s proposed rule because it would require the use of emerging and expensive technologies, which environmental justice groups fear will be built in already marginalized communities.

“We don’t need any false solutions like hydrogen and carbon capture that will add to the pollution burden that already exists in our communities,” said Robert Bullard, director of the Bullard Center for Environmental and Climate Justice at Texas Southern University, and often referred to as the father of the environmental justice movement.

Industry groups, including the trade association for electric utilities, also praised the delay.

“While EEI has not seen the final rules, we appreciate that EPA has acknowledged our concerns with the proposed regulations for existing natural gas,” Emily Fisher, general counsel for Edison Electric Institute, said in a statement.

While some groups applauded the move, others criticized the Biden administration.

“We are extremely disappointed in EPA’s decision to delay finalizing carbon pollution standards for existing gas plants, which make up a significant portion of carbon emissions in the power sector,” Frank Sturges, attorney at the Clean Air Task Force. “Greenhouse gas emissions from power plants have gone uncontrolled for far too long, and we have no more time to waste.”

Whether the Biden administration will be able to finish the work it started on its signature power plant rule depends on the results of the election.

CNN and other outlets have also reported the Biden EPA is planning to delay rules that would cut down on pollution from cars and other light-duty vehicles, giving automakers more time to meet the standards.

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