Climate Corner: EPA finalizes important rules

May 25, 2024

Eric Engle

Last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized four rules on greenhouse gas emissions from electric generation facilities. Such facilities make up 51% of emissions emanating from West Virginia, over double the national average for electric generation emissions of 25%. Coal plants in West Virginia contribute 95% of the electric generation emissions of this state.

The rules completed by the EPA include a rule to ensure that all coal-fired plants that plan to operate long-term and all new baseload gas-fired plants control 90% of their carbon emissions; a rule strengthening and updating the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for coal-fired power plants, which would restrict the emissions standard for toxic metals by 67% and reduce the emissions allowed for mercury from lignite coal by 70%; a rule to reduce wastewater discharge pollution from coal-fired plants by more than 660 million pounds annually; and a rule for safer coal ash management in areas that have not been regulated at the federal level until now, which includes areas previously used for disposal that may leak and contaminate groundwater.

The EPA has projected up to $370 billion in climate and public health net benefits from the rules, including reduction of 1.38 billion metric tons of carbon pollution overall through 2047, which is equivalent to 320 million internal combustion engine vehicles. To quote from coverage on the rule for carbon emissions control by energy and environmental reporter Mike Tony at the Charleston Gazette-Mail, “Existing coal-fired units that are intended to operate after Jan. 1, 2039, will have a numeric emission rate limit based on application of carbon capture and storage with 90% capture, which they must meet by 2032. Units that have committed to cease operations by Jan. 1, 2039, will have a numeric emission rate limit based on 40% natural gas co-firing that they must meet by 2030.”

The rule is already being challenged in the courts, with West Virginia co-leading a 25-state coalition lawsuit under Republican Attorney General and Gubernatorial nominee, Patrick Morrisey, though EPA Administrator Michael Regan has said that the agency finalized this rule having factored in constraints previously applied by the Supreme Court of the United States in a ruling from 2022 (also from a lawsuit led by Morrisey). Regan appears to see no reason to believe this rule will be seriously altered or overturned by the courts.

Why the industry-backed challenges and complaints from the likes of not only Morrisey but Republican Governor and U.S. Senate nominee Jim Justice, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), and Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.VA.)? Because the industry and these politicians in their pockets know that carbon capture and sequestration or storage (CCS) technology, their only hope of compliance with the rule, is not remotely capable of capturing the emissions necessary, and will not be so even by the end of the 2030s. Yet and still, these same interests are pushing CCS as a way to produce what is referred to as “blue” hydrogen (hydrogen derived from methane gas) without emitting copious amounts of CO2.

These interests and officeholders know how prohibitively expensive, unproven (really disproven) at scale, and unsafe CCS really is, but it took an EPA rule to get them to admit it. Pretty ingenious on the part of the Biden administration’s EPA actually, though the Biden Department of Energy (DOE) is also working to move forward on blue hydrogen for the Appalachian Regional Clean Hydrogen Hub (ARCH2) project in the Ohio River Valley. These interests and politicians also know how incredibly dangerous hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is for the methane gas needed for both gas-fired plants and blue hydrogen, but they sidestep those dangers at every turn.

A recent piece by news outlet WBOY in West Virginia tells the story of three families made fossil fuels refugees when forced to abandon their homes after experiencing medical issues from fracking contamination in the Knob Fork area of Wetzel County. We at Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action have a couple as members, one of whom is on our board, who were forced out of Western Pennsylvania due to similar issues and who refer to themselves as fossil fuels refugees. If you don’t believe these folks, you can reference the Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking and Associated Gas and Oil Infrastructure, Ninth Edition, at The compendium is a project of Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Concerned Health Professionals of NY, which is a project of the Science and Environmental Health Network.

I commend the EPA for these important rules. I look forward to their survival in the courts and hope for their continued implementation by the next and following presidential administrations. I also look forward to the continued investments needed (NOT blue hydrogen) from Congress and this administration to decarbonize our economy so that we can seriously address the climate crisis and related crises, better protect public health, and clean up and protect our precious air, water, and soils.


Eric Engle is board president of Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action.