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Politics

Why the EPA is Changing A Major Emissions Rule

On gas plant pollution, a new IEA report, and Florida’s war on lab-grown meat

Why the EPA is Changing A Major Emissions Rule
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: England and Wales had their warmest February on record • An avalanche watch has been issued for Tahoe Basin • It will be warm and windy this weekend in the Texas Panhandle, where the Smokehouse Creek Fire is still burning out of control.

THE TOP FIVE

1. EPA to relax power plant emissions rules

The Biden administration is making changes to its sweeping plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants while it figures out a new, more ambitious rule. Here’s a TL;DR version of what’s happening.

The old plan: Existing coal plants, existing gas-fired plants, and gas plants built in the future would be required to dramatically reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by 2040.

The new (temporary) plan: Existing coal plants and new gas plants must still dramatically reduce their emissions. But existing gas plants are exempt.

The end goal: The Environmental Protection Agency wants a “stronger” rule that can “achieve greater emissions reductions.” This means covering the entire fleet of gas plants, and addressing toxic air pollutants, not just greenhouse gases.

The reaction: Extremely mixed. Environmental groups that had called for tougher restrictions are pleased. But so are some utility groups that wanted the rules weakened, and see the delay as an acknowledgment of their concerns. Rhode Island’s Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said “failing to cover the plants responsible for the vast majority of future carbon pollution from the power sector makes no sense.”

The rub: The new rules probably won’t come into place until after Election Day, if at all. The decision comes as the administration is widely expected to relax tailpipe emissions rules, and “would call into question the ability of the United States to meet the president’s goal of cutting United States emissions roughly in half by the end of this decade,” explainedThe New York Times.

2. Biden says Chinese EVs could be a security risk

More news from Washington: The Biden administration yesterday opened an investigation into the national security risks posed by Chinese-made “connected vehicles,” which essentially means any vehicle or any car part that connects to the internet, explainedHeatmap’s Robinson Meyer. New cars, especially EVs, are outfitted with cameras, sensors, or cellular modems required for modern safety features. The investigation isn’t hugely surprising, but it “is a big deal, in part because it marks that the backlash to Chinese EVs has begun in earnest in the U.S.,” Meyer wrote. And it shows that “tariffs alone probably can’t keep Chinese-branded EVs out of the American market forever.”

3. Equinor and Orsted win New York offshore wind auction

New York’s offshore wind industry is back, or at least back in contract. Two offshore wind projects, Empire Wind 1 and Sunrise Wind, have been awarded, respectively, to developers Equinor and the partnership of Orsted and Eversource. These two projects, which would amount to 1,700 megawatts of capacity in total (enough to power about a million homes, according to Governor Kathy Hochul’s office), had first been bid out in 2019 and then rebid when these same developers were unable to renegotiate their contracts to deal with rising material and interest rate costs. “But merely (re-)awarding the contracts does not ensure that steel goes into the water, let alone that electrons flow into homes,” wroteHeatmap’s Matthew Zeitlin. Sunrise Wind will likely be completed in 2026. Orsted has to hammer out the details of a new contract, and only then finally decide whether to go through with the thing or not; that’s expected to happen sometime in the second quarter of this year, with federal permitting finished in the summer. Empire Wind 1 has a similar timeline.

4. IEA: Energy-related CO2 emissions rose last year

There’s bad news and good news in the International Energy Agency’s CO2 Emissions in 2023 report. Let’s start with the bad news, so we can end on a positive note. Energy-related carbon emissions are still going up. Emissions increased by 1.1% in 2023, largely due to hydropower shortfalls caused by drought. The sooner we can stop pumping new carbon into the atmosphere, the better our chances of avoiding the worst effects of climate change. But there are glimmers of hope in the report: Last year’s rise was less extreme than the year before even though energy demand growth accelerated, and “without clean energy technologies, the global increase in CO2 emissions in the last five years would have been three times larger.” And the report finds that between 2019 to 2023, clean energy growth was twice as large as fossil fuel growth.

IEA

5. Florida Senate votes to ban lab-grown meat

The Florida Senate approved a bill that would make it a misdemeanor to manufacture or sell cultivated meat, or meat grown from animal cells. The “lab-grown meat” industry is still in its infancy, but some see it as a way to reduce the environmental effects of animal agriculture. Farmers and meat producers are up in arms about it, though, and cultivated meat has been drawn into Florida’s culture wars. The state House is considering its own version of the bill.

THE KICKER

The Toyota Prius Prime SE, a plug-in hybrid, was rated the “greenest” car in the country by the nonprofit American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy. At the bottom of the list was the Mercedes-Benz Maybach S680, with an estimated annual fuel cost of $3,031.

Yellow

Jessica Hullinger

Jessica Hullinger is a freelance writer and editor who likes to think deeply about climate science and sustainability. She previously served as Global Deputy Editor for The Week, and her writing has been featured in publications including Fast Company, Popular Science, and Fortune. Jessica is originally from Indiana but lives in London. Read More

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