Enlarge (credit: Jose A. Bernat Bacete)

Today, the US Environmental Protection Agency announced a suite of rules that target pollution from fossil fuel power plants. In addition to limits on carbon emissions and a tightening of existing regulations on mercury releases, additional rules target coal ash waste left over from power generation and contaminants in the water used during the operation of power plants. While some of these regulations will affect the operation of plants powered by natural gas, most directly target the use of coal and will likely be the final nail in the coffin for the already dying industry.

The decision to release all four rules at the same time goes beyond simply getting the pain over with at once. Rules governing carbon emissions are expected to influence the emissions of other pollutants like mercury, and vice versa. As a result, the EPA expects that creating a single plan for compliance with all the rules will be more cost-effective.

Targeting carbon

The regulations that target carbon dioxide emissions have been in the works for roughly a year. The rules came in response to a Supreme Court decision in West Virginia v. EPA, which ruled that Clean Air Act regulations had to target individual power plants rather than giving states flexibility regarding how to meet broader standards. As a result, the new rules target carbon dioxide the only way they can: Plants can either switch to burning non-fossil fuels such as green hydrogen, or they can capture their carbon emissions.

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