EPA’s action finalizes aggressive emission reduction targets for certain subcategories of fossil fuel-fired power plants, based on implementation of carbon capture and sequestration.

By Stacey L. VanBelleghem, Karl A. Karg, and Phil Sandick

This post is the first in a series on four key power plant rules that the Environmental Protection Agency recently released. It discusses the rule to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from certain electric generating units.

On April 25, 2024, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

The decision clears a path for President Biden’s climate priorities, striking down a Trump Administration rule that had repealed the Obama Administration’s power plant greenhouse gas regulations.

By Stacey L. VanBelleghem and Devin M. O’Connor

On January 19, 2021, on the eve of President Biden’s inauguration, in American Lung Association, et al. v. EPA, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) Rule, which sought to replace the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan (CPP). Both rules would regulate carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from existing electric generating units (EGUs) under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act (CAA).[1]

The ACE Rule (summarized in this Latham blog post), took three key actions:

  1. It formally repealed the Obama Administration’s CPP, finding that the CPP exceeded the EPA’s statutory authority by employing generation-shifting (shifting electric generation from higher to lower emitting sources) as a Best System of Emission Reduction (BSER). In the ACE Rule, the EPA concluded that the agency’s authority to define BSER is limited to measures that can be applied “to or at” an individual stationary source, that generation-shifting conflicts with the CAA’s unambiguous statutory requirement, and the ACE Rule interpretation is the only permissible reading of the statute.
  2. It established EGU heat rate improvements as the BSER for CO2 emissions, identifying much weaker targets for these existing sources.
  3. It updated the foundational implementing rules for existing source emissions guidelines under Section 111(d) by extending compliance timelines.

California appeals court decision increases the potential for CEQA challenges to power plant projects under the CEC’s jurisdiction.

By Marc T. Campopiano, Charles C. Read, and Kevin A. Homrighausen

In Communities for a Better Environment v. Energy Resources Conservation & Development Commission, the California First District Court of Appeal recently held that the State Legislature violated the California Constitution by limiting the scope of judicial review for California Energy Commission (CEC) decisions involving power plant siting to the California Supreme Court. Although the California Constitution gives the Legislature express authority to limit the scope of judicial review for California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) decisions, the court found there is no similar authority regarding appeals of CEC decisions.

The Supreme Court has rarely, if ever, agreed to hear CEQA challenges of CEC power plant decisions. Now, developers seeking to construct new power plants or modify existing power plants under the CEC’s jurisdiction may see an increase in legal challenges — including California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) challenges — in California’s trial courts. As a result, CEQA challenges to power plants may closely resemble other land use challenges in the state.

EPA’s proposed standards have important implications, even though few coal plants are slated for development.

By Joel C. Beauvais and Stacey L. VanBelleghem

Background

On December 6, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) signed a proposed rule to establish new source performance standards (NSPS) under Clean Air Act Section 111(b) for carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from new, reconstructed, and modified power plants. The proposal would replace the existing Obama-era standards — which were based on applying partial carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology for new coal-fired plants — with significantly less stringent requirements. EPA’s proposal has several important implications for the power industry and other emitting sectors, even though few, if any, new coal plants are expected to be built in the United States in the near future.

EPA’s Current and Proposed CO2 Standards: A Comparison

EPA’s proposal would establish new emission limits, based on the “best system of emission reduction” (BSER) identified by the agency, for new, reconstructed, and modified coal-fired steam electric generating units (EGUs). For natural gas-fired combustion turbines, EPA proposes no changes to the 2015 Obama-era rule.

By Paul Davies, Joern Kassow and Alexander Wilhelm

In early July 2017, operators of German nuclear power plants initiated the next step in the process of decommissioning by transferring €24 billion to the new state-owned fund for nuclear power plant waste disposal.

The German state established the Fund for the Financing of the Nuclear Waste Disposal (Fonds zur Finanzierung der kerntechnischen Entsorgung) to transfer the nuclear waste management liabilities from the plant operators to the state. In return for their release from these liabilities, the operators agreed in a public law contract to make a significant cash payment to the fund. The total payment includes a base amount already set aside for this purpose by the operators in their accruals, plus a risk premium aimed at covering the risk of cost increases for the disposal in the future. The operators now benefit from long-term legal certainty, taking into account that the amount paid to the fund was based on the best cost estimates currently available and that the German federal legislators (Bundestag and Bundesrat) have not yet decided on a location for the final repository for nuclear waste.

By Claudia O’Brien, Bob Wyman, Joel Beauvais, Stacey VanBelleghem, Bridget Reineking, and Kimberly Leefatt

On March 28, 2017, President Donald Trump signed an executive order (EO) directing executive departments and agencies to review regulations that potentially burden the development or use of domestically-produced energy resources. This EO sets the stage for what could become a series of sweeping reversals of the Obama Administration’s greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction and climate change polices. In particular, the order lays the groundwork for reform of the Clean Power Plan (CPP) and the new source pollution standards for new, modified and reconstructed power plants (NSPS).

The issuance of this EO kicks off a long and complex process for EPA to review both the CPP and NSPS, draft and publish proposals to revise or rescind the rules, accept notice and comment on the proposals, address comments on the proposals, and then issue final rules. Regardless of whether EPA proposes to suspend, revise, or rescind the rules, legal challenges are sure to follow. The outcome of these rulemakings and subsequent litigation will be consequential for the future of federal regulation of GHGs under the Clean Air Act (CAA).

On June 25, President Obama issued the Climate Action Plan to expand the federal government’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and combat climate change.  In addition to focusing on regulating GHG emissions from new and existing power plants, the President’s plan reinforces support for fossil-fuel generation combined with  carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technologies.  CCS is the process of capturing CO2 from large industrial facilities, such as power plants, and storing it permanently underground, usually via