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The EPA’s Carbon Crackdown Is Finally Here

Inside a special edition of Shift Key.

EPA Headquarters.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

One of the most important pieces of the Biden administration’s climate policy has arrived: On Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency issued new rules restricting climate pollution from coal-fired plants and natural gas plants that haven’t been built yet. The rules will eliminate more than a billion tons of greenhouse gas pollution by the middle of the century.

They are the long-awaited “stick” in the Biden administration’s carrots-and-sticks climate policy. So how do the rules work? Why do they emphasize carbon capture so much? And is this the end of coal in America? On this special episode of Shift Key, Rob and Jesse dig into the regulations and why they matter to American climate policy. Shift Key is hosted by Robinson Meyer is founding executive editor of Heatmap, and Jesse Jenkins is a professor of energy systems engineering at Princeton University.

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Here is an excerpt from our conversation:

Jesse Jenkins: Going all the way back to the Bush era, the coal industry and power industry have been telling us over and over and over again that carbon capture is the solution to retain coal plants and and gas plants without emitting CO2.

We’ve had demonstration projects at scale, for exactly that technology, in the United States and in Canada. We have enacted — largely at the behest of those interests — extensive subsidies for carbon capture, $85 per ton of CO2 captured and stored under the 45Q tax credit that was extended and expanded by the Inflation Reduction Act. We are investing, I think, over $4 billion in building CO2 network infrastructure to help create trunk lines that could capture CO2, accept CO2 injections and take them to where they can be stored. We’re investing in demonstration or initial buildout of CO2 storage basins. And we’re investing in demonstrations of carbon capture across a variety of industries through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

So like, all of the money is there from the government in response to the argument from the industry that this is the way forward. And now what EPA is doing is saying, “Okay, it’s time to go. You’ve got to actually do it.” And so they’re, of course, now going to flip the tune and say, “No, no, no, no, no, we can’t do that. We can’t do that. It’s not possible.”

Robinson Meyer: Yesterday, the Edison Electric Institute — which has the current CEO Dan Brouillette, who was the Trump administration’s Energy Secretary. The Edison Electric Institute is the trade association of U.S. shareholder-owned electric utilities, and so if you have a privately owned utility, it probably belongs to EEI. He put out a statement saying: “While we appreciate and support EPA’s work to develop a clear, continued path for the transition to cleaner resources, we are disappointed that the agency did not address the concerns we raised about carbon capture and storage. CCS is not yet ready for full scale, economy wide deployment, nor is there sufficient time to permit, finance, and build the CCS infrastructure needed for compliance by 2032.”

And I just want to point out here — Heatmap will continue to cover, obviously, these conversations about CCS. But I do want to just point out that, as you were saying, for decades, the utility industry has been telling us that CCS is so close. They’re so ready for primetime on it. They are just, they’re desperate to install CCS. This is the answer. Clean coal, clean natural gas, they’re going to do it. And now the EPA has been, you know, cowabunga it is, or you know, eff it, we ball, on CCS, right? And now that EPA is like, “Okay, it’s time to play,” they’re not coming out. They’re scared. They’re hiding at home.

I just want to highlight this dynamic because I think it is absolutely core to the whole thing. And no matter what convoluted legal arguments we are going to be subjected to over the next five years as this thing winds through the courts — hopefully less time — there’s just a central tension here, which is that the EPA has ostensibly given the utility industry what it has been asking for decades and decades, which is an excuse to do the wide-scale deployment of CCS, largely at taxpayer expense. And the utility industry doesn’t want to do it.

This episode of Shift Key is sponsored by…

KORE Power provides the commercial, industrial, and utility markets with functional solutions that advance the clean energy transition worldwide. KORE Power's technology and manufacturing capabilities provide direct access to next generation battery cells, energy storage systems that scale to grid+, EV power & infrastructure, and intuitive asset management to unlock energy strategies across a myriad of applications. Explore more at korepower.com.

Watershed’s climate data engine helps companies measure and reduce their emissions, turning the data they already have into an audit-ready carbon footprint backed by the latest climate science. Get the sustainability data you need in weeks, not months. Learn more at watershed.com.

Music for Shift Key is by Adam Kromelow.

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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.

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