Sign In or Create an Account.

By continuing, you agree to the Terms of Service and acknowledge our Privacy Policy


The Big Problem With the EPA’s New Rules

They fall short of President Biden’s power plant goals — and he’s running out of time and tools.

A natural-gas plant.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

As you may have heard, the Biden administration on Thursday proposed regulating greenhouse-gas emissions from new and existing power plants.

The rule is a landmark. If implemented successfully, it would mark the first time that the United States has regulated emissions from existing power plants, one of the largest sources of carbon pollution in the economy.

Yet coverage of the rule has deviated in some respects from what it would actually do. The rule falls short of its goals in at least one important way: It will not meet President Joe Biden’s targets for the power sector.

Soon after he took office, President Biden committed the United States to generating 100% of its electricity from zero-carbon sources by 2035. It is part of his broader Paris Agreement pledge to slash U.S. carbon pollution in half by 2030 as compared to 2005 levels.

But the EPA’s proposal would not achieve a zero-carbon power grid even by 2040, five years after the president’s deadline. If the rule is implemented, then the American electricity system will emit 458 million metric tons of carbon pollution in 2040. While that is a significant reduction — it’s about 70% lower than today’s annual emissions — it is obviously not zero.

“These rules and this section of the Clean Air Act is not designed to achieve President Biden’s clean power targets,” Charles Harper, a policy analyst at Evergreen, a climate advocacy organization and think tank, told me.

“These power-sector rules are an important contributor to reducing emissions to the power sector, but they alone won’t get to a zero-carbon grid — and that’s by design within the statute.”

On one hand, the EPA’s proposal reveals the success of President Biden’s flagship climate accomplishment, the Inflation Reduction Act. The EPA’s proposal can mandate carbon capture and storage so aggressively because that law’s subsidies and tax credits made it economically feasible for utilities. The proposal is “designed very, very well to work in tandem with the IRA tax credits,” Nick Bryner, a law professor at Louisiana State University, told me.

In fact, according to the rule’s analysis, the climate law — and not the proposed rule — will drive most of the emissions declines in the power sector from 2028 to 2040. The rule is tinkering around the edges of a much larger transformation.

But on the other hand, the rule reveals the limits of that metamorphosis. The Biden administration has adopted more climate policy than any previous administration, yet they are running out of tools to make their climate goals a reality. The EPA will be lucky to finalize these rules before the end of Biden’s first — and potentially only — term. And it is not working on any other proposed power-sector regulation that might get the country all the way to Biden’s 2035 goal.

At this point, Biden may need a revolution of state and local climate advocacy — not to mention another four years in office, and perhaps even another congressional majority — to achieve his most ambitious climate goals. The planet is only getting hotter.

Robinson Meyer profile image

Robinson Meyer

Robinson is the founding executive editor of Heatmap. He was previously a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he covered climate change, energy, and technology.


The Electrolyzer Tech Business Is Booming

A couple major manufacturers just scored big sources of new capital.

Heatmap Illustration/Screenshot/YouTube

While the latest hydrogen hype cycle may be waning, investment in the fundamental technologies needed to power the green hydrogen economy is holding strong. This past week, two major players in the space secured significant funding: $100 million in credit financing for Massachusetts-based Electric Hydrogen and $111 million for the Australian startup Hysata’s Series B round. Both companies manufacture electrolyzers, the clean energy-powered devices that produce green hydrogen by splitting water molecules apart.

“There is greater clarity in the marketplace now generally about what's required, what it takes to build projects, what it takes to actually get product out there,” Patrick Molloy, a principal at the energy think tank RMI, told me. These investments show that the hydrogen industry is moving beyond the hubris and getting practical about scaling up, he said. “It bodes well for projects coming through the pipeline. It bodes well for the role and the value of this technology stream as we move towards deployment.”

Keep reading...Show less
Electric Vehicles

Car Companies Are Energy Companies Now

The major U.S. automakers are catching up on Tesla’s power game.

A Silverado EV and power lines.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

It was my first truck-powered cocktail party.

General Motors had gathered journalists at a Beverly Hills mansion last week for a vehicle-to-home show and tell. GM’s engineers outfitted the garage with all the components needed for an electric vehicle’s battery to back up the house’s power supply. Then they tripped the circuit breaker to cut off the home from grid power and let the plugged-in Chevy Silverado electric pickup run the home’s lights and other electrical systems for the remainder of the gathering.

Keep reading...Show less

AM Briefing: Biden’s Coal Lease Crackdown

On the future of coal mining, critical minerals, and Microsoft’s emissions

What To Know About Biden’s Coal Lease Crackdown
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: Rain and cool temperatures are stalling wildfires in an oil-producing region of Canada • A record-setting May heat wave in Florida will linger through the weekend • It is 77 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny in Rome today, where the Vatican climate conference will come to a close.


1. Severe storms in Houston kill 4

At least four people were killed in Houston last night when severe storms tore through Texas. Wind speeds reached 100 mph, shattering skyscraper windows, destroying trees, and littering downtown Houston with debris. “Downtown is a mess. It’s dangerous,” said Houston Mayor John Whitmire. Outside Houston, winds toppled powerline towers. At one point 1 million customers were without power across the state, and many schools are closed today. The storm front moved into Louisiana this morning, prompting flash flood warnings in New Orleans.

Keep reading...Show less