Jul 25, 2024  |  
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Susan Ferrechio

NextImg:Biden officials warned against EPA’s plan to ban fossil fuels from electrical grid

President Biden’s sweeping new rule to end power plant emissions encountered opposition from administration officials, including warnings that there is currently no viable way to fully replace fossil fuels in the electricity sector in the next 15 years.

Congressional lawmakers have obtained hundreds of internal comments from “unknown Biden administration officials” who “cast significant doubt” ahead of the EPA’s unveiling of the new rule, announced in May, that would effectively eliminate fossil fuel-fired power plants by 2040.

Concerned administration officials who reviewed the power plant rule said the EPA’s proposal to end coal-fired and natural gas power plant emissions relies on technologies to replace fossil fuels or capture emissions that are either too expensive or are not feasible on a large scale, including hydrogen combustion and carbon capture, utilization and storage.

Thomas J. Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research, which analyzes government regulation of global energy markets and advocates for market-driven solutions, said the emails show the administration is determined to eliminate fossil fuels at any cost, even if their own advisors warn against it.

“It’s a sign that even if there are rational and reasonable people within the inner workings of the administration, the political agenda trumps all logic and reason,” Mr. Pyle said. ​”It’s clear to me from the way that the rule is written, that the easiest option for utilities would be to close all gas or coal plants.”

While the EPA is authorized to set emissions standards under the Clean Air Act, the agency is required to consider whether new standards can be achieved at a reasonable cost and can be implemented with technology that demonstrates the “Best System of Emission Reduction” or BSER.

One Biden administration official who reviewed the proposed rule “expressed concern that [carbon capture] has not yet met the legal threshold for being considered a BSER’” by the federal government.

Another official warned that hydrogen combustion, considered a form of green energy, has only worked in certain pilot or small-scale test applications.

“Hydrogen combustion has not been adequately demonstrated nationwide for utility-scale power generation,” the administration official warned.

In a letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan, House Lawmakers requested the agency unmask the names of the Biden officials who raised questions about the proposed rule.

“Given the nature of the comments and the Rule’s potential impact on fossil fuel-fired power plants, it is imperative that the Committee and the American public are made aware of the Administration’s apparent doubt concerning the legality,” of the rule, Oversight and Accountability Committee Chairman James Comer wrote to Mr. Regain on Dec. 15.

Mr. Comer wants all of the emails unreacted and identified by name, writing to Mr. Regan, “The correspondence between these parties seems to indicate that despite concerns held by any or all of these entities that the rule cannot lawfully be promulgated, EPA has brazenly decided to move forward with the rule.”

The committee obtained 606 comments from Biden officials “that identify extensive problems with the Rule,” wrote Mr. Comer, Kentucky Republican.

When he unveiled the rule, Mr. Regan justified the agency’s role in setting emission standards to ensure “all people in this country have clean air to breathe.”

He acknowledged the rule would likely result in the shuttering of some existing coal plants.

Coal and natural gas-fired power plants generate nearly 60% of the nation’s electricity.

Under the rules, both coal and natural gas-fired plants would be forced to implement costly carbon capture technology, switch to renewables or shutter altogether if they fail to reduce or capture nearly all of their emissions by 2040.

Carbon capture, a little-used and expensive technology, takes carbon dioxide emissions and stores them so they are not released into the air. But the technology has not been widely implemented and states and industry groups say the cumbersome permitting process for new energy projects is causing the EPA to lag in green-lighting new construction of carbon capture systems.

At the time of the EPA announcement, White House Climate Adviser Ali Zaidi said the primary goal of the rule was to tackle pollution.

He said power plants, which are the source of a quarter of the nation’s carbon emissions, could switch to energy sources such as clean hydrogen to comply with the new rule.  

“We know there are so many technologies that enable both new and existing power plants to [reduce carbon emissions], regardless of the fuel source,” he said.

But Biden administration officials worried alternative technologies were far out of reach and would leave the future of power plants in jeopardy of closure if the rule is implemented.

The rule, which the EPA has not yet finalized, will also likely face significant legal challenges.

​The hundreds ​of internal emails about the rule were sent to and from Mr. Zaidi and unnamed officials in the EPA, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Department of Energy, the Justice Department and the White House General Counsel.

• Susan Ferrechio can be reached at