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Greenhouse Gases

U.S. EPA proposes weakening carbon dioxide limits for coal-fired power plants

Trump administration pulls back on Clean Power Plan

by Jeff Johnson
December 7, 2018

Photo of the Hugo power plant in Oklahoma, with a river in the foreground.
Credit: Estern Farmers Electric Cooperative
EPA has proposed increasing carbon dioxide emissions limits for newly built coal-fired power plants.

The US Environmental Protection Agency formally proposed new carbon dioxide emissions limits for newly constructed coal-fired power plants on Dec. 6. The standards are far weaker than final regulations issued in 2015 under former president Barack Obama. In fact, the proposed maximum of 860 kg of CO2 per megawatt-hour is higher than levels achievable today by the best coal plants.

The Obama-era final rule called for 640 kg CO2 per MW·h. Limiting emissions to that amount would require carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology. At that time, EPA acknowledged CCS was not fully developed, but EPA officials said the requirement would drive innovation.

However, according to EPA acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler, that emissions limit was “onerous wishful thinking” and illegal since it could not be achieved when the regulation was issued, something required under the Clean Air Act. Wheeler added at a briefing with coal supporters and EPA staff that with the new standard, CO2 emissions will not increase, coal will remain in the energy mix, and new coal technologies will be developed for the U.S. export market.

The proposal was quickly criticized by environmental advocates and Democrats in Congress, who noted a host of recent international reports show time is running out to cut greenhouse gas emissions to curb the impact of climate change.

Also, a recent International Energy Administration report shows that the world’s advanced economies, including the US and European Union, will see an uptick in their energy-related CO2 emissions this year—the first such increase in five years. The reason for the increase is higher oil and gas use that more than offset reduced coal consumption. As a result, the IEA expects CO2 emissions in these economies to have increased by around 0.5% in 2018.


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