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E.P.A., Curbed by Supreme Court, Falls Back on a Piecemeal Plan for Climate Change


WASHINGTON — Following the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling last week limiting the federal government’s ability to limit the pollution that’s causing global warming, the Biden administration is planning to make use of other regulatory tools in hopes of achieving similar goals.

A key a part of the plan: Further restrict other pollutants that coal-burning power plants emit corresponding to soot, mercury and nitrous oxides — a move that also will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“While the Court sided with special interests attempting to take the country backwards, it didn’t take away E.P.A.’s ability to control greenhouse gases and protect people from pollution,” Gina McCarthy, the White House climate change adviser, said in a press release, referring to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

White House officials said they imagine President Biden’s goal of slashing emissions roughly in half by the top of this decade, and fully eliminating fossil fuel emissions from the facility sector by 2035, still stays well within sight. The falling cost of renewable energy like wind and solar will help, administration officials said, in addition to an increasing variety of policies on the state and native levels to fight climate change, together with the brand new E.P.A. regulations.

Still, the federal government’s piecemeal approach, which continues to be taking shape, could make it tougher to attain its goals, many observers said. Power plants that burn fossil fuels are considered one of the one largest contributors of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, which is rapidly warming the planet.

The Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision, which concluded that the E.P.A. lacks broad authority to remodel the nation’s electrical system away from fossil fuels, has left the Biden administration bereft of a robust tool, energy experts said. The ruling didn’t strip the E.P.A. of its authority to control greenhouse gas emissions, but it surely allowed only narrower policies to control how individual power plants operate.

Meaning the administration’s backup strategies will not be more likely to spur a rapid metamorphosis to scrub energy unless the administration acts quickly and aggressively, experts said. “This 12 months and early next are critically necessary for whether or not the goals the administration has set — each for the facility sector and the economy as a complete — are going to be reachable,” said John Larsen, a partner on the Rhodium Group, an energy research and consulting firm.

Mr. Larsen said the Biden administration could have to enact “layers and layers” of latest policies moderately than depend on a single sweeping program. And, he added, “they should act soon to really get those wheels turning.”

In an interview this week, Joseph Goffman, president Biden’s nominee for E.P.A.’s air chief, said the agency intends to issue a proposed regulation early next 12 months that may curb greenhouse gas emissions from existing coal-burning power plants. The E.P.A. around the identical time also will issue a proposed regulation to chop emissions from recent gas-burning power plants, he said.

Mr. Goffman declined to debate details of what either plan might include, but said the E.P.A. has been “putting together a menu of three or 4 different approaches” that might fit throughout the Supreme Court’s mandate.

Mr. Goffman said the E.P.A. continues to be analyzing the Supreme Court ruling but said it doesn’t appear to affect the agency’s current strategy. “The case did not likely take anything off the menu that we’ve been specializing in,” he said.

He said the administration’s climate goals could be reached, but it would take more actions across the federal government, not only through the E.P.A. “We were never going to get there apart from through an ensemble of policies,” Mr. Goffman said.

The E.P.A. is also enacting tougher restrictions on coal plants to scale back pollutants like soot and nitrous oxides, and to force the cleanup of water contamination from coal plants. Michael S. Regan, the E.P.A. administrator, has said those and other rules could have a side-benefit of also reducing greenhouse gas emissions. He also has indicated rule changes corresponding to these might make some coal plants too expensive to proceed to operate, leading to more of them being closed down.

“By presenting all of those rules at the identical time to the industry, the industry gets a likelihood to check out this suite of rules all of sudden and say, ‘Is it value doubling down in investments on this current facility? Or should we take a look at that cost and say now it’s time to pivot and spend money on a clean energy future?’,” Mr. Regan said at an oil and gas conference in March.

“If a few of these facilities resolve that it isn’t value investing in, and also you get an expedited retirement, that’s the perfect tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.

Coal provides about 21 percent of electricity in the US, but accounts for greater than half of all carbon dioxide emissions from power production, making it considered one of the dirtiest fossil fuels. About 28 percent of coal-fired capability is predicted to be retired by 2035, in keeping with the Energy Information Administration, a change that has been driven largely by the incontrovertible fact that gas-burning power plants have turn out to be inexpensive to operate, as has renewable energy.

One person conversant in the Biden administration’s approach said the White House believes it may well achieve economywide emissions reductions of as much as 40 percent below 2005 levels by the top of this decade by tightening regulations on traditional pollutants like mercury, acid gases and particulate matter. That may get the country near Mr. Biden’s goal of cutting emissions at the least 50 percent from 2005 levels in that very same time-frame, said the person, who was not authorized to talk publicly in regards to the administration’s strategy.

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South Asia. India and other nations within the region, home to lots of of hundreds of thousands of humanity’s most vulnerable, are on the front lines of climate change. As climatic extremes turn out to be the norm, it’s growing harder to deal with poverty, food security and health challenges.

Great Salt Lake. Local politicians and scientists are warning that climate change and rapid population growth are shrinking the lake, making a bowl of toxic dust that might poison the air around Salt Lake City. But there are not any easy solutions to avert that consequence.

Carbon dioxide levels. The quantity of carbon dioxide within the atmosphere hit its highest level ever, scientists said. Humans pumped 36 billion tons of the planet-warming gas into the atmosphere in 2021, greater than in any previous 12 months.

Environmental activists said they’re uncertain in regards to the Biden administration’s commitment.

“What we’re seeing without delay is the Biden administration not acting with the urgency needed,” said Weston Gobar, a spokesman for the Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of Black-led social justice and environmental groups. He called on Mr. Biden to declare a “climate emergency” under the National Emergencies Act with a purpose to quickly construct out clean energy resources, and to induce Congress to suspend the filibuster to pass climate bills.

He praised the emerging E.P.A. strategy, noting the majority of pollution from power plants disproportionately affects communities of color. But, he said, “It’s not enough.”

Meanwhile, in the case of directly regulating greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, several experts said the E.P.A. could call for mixing relatively cleaner fuels, like gas or hydrogen, to bring down emissions, together with other technological fixes, corresponding to trapping carbon dioxide from power plants before the emissions can enter the atmosphere.

Michelle Bloodworth, chief executive of America’s Power, a coal industry group, said that an aggressive agenda that drives more coal plant retirements would hurt the reliability of the electrical grid.

“Electric grid officials have issued warnings in regards to the prospect of electricity shortages and blackouts in lots of parts of the country, and more coal retirements would only make the situation worse,” Ms. Bloodworth said in a press release. She noted that greater than 40 percent of the nation’s coal fleet has already announced plans to shut down.

Yet eliminating emissions from those plants, or pushing the facility plants to maneuver to cleaner fuels, is also critical to keeping global rising temperatures at relatively protected levels. Also key: how the E.P.A. proposes regulating emissions from greater than 90 gigawatts of latest gas-burning plants which might be being planned, said Leah Stokes, a professor of environmental policy on the University of Santa Barbara, California.

“That’s going to be hugely consequential for the planet,” Ms. Stokes said. “If we don’t have a plan for brand new gas plants, we won’t meet President Biden’s goals.”

Jeffrey Holmstead, an energy lawyer who served within the E.P.A. in each Bush administrations, said the utility firms he works with feel that recent regulations on their power plants are a “sideshow” compared with the emissions cuts that may very well be achieved if Congress approved billions of dollars in tax credits for wind, solar and battery storage. That package continues to be being negotiated in Congress due to objections from Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, whose vote is essential within the evenly divided Senate.

“It can be interesting to see how aggressively the administration moves to control CO2 emissions,” Mr. Holmstead said. “What’s unclear is how high a priority that can be for the agency.”

Scientists say that if warming exceeds 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, the likelihood of catastrophic consequences from climate change — worsening heat waves and droughts, intensifying storms, and other crises — increases significantly. The planet has already heated by a median of about 1.1 degrees Celsius, and worldwide emissions proceed to climb.

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