Statement from Catholic Climate Covenant in praise of new EPA standards

On April 25, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized its power plant solution standards, a rule that will help ensure cleaner air and water, cut climate pollution, and protect the health of millions of people. The EPA’s Administrator, Michael S. Regan, signed the final action notice on April 24, and the EPA is submitting it for publication in the Federal Register (FR).

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began proposing new Clean Air Act limits on emissions as well as guidelines for carbon dioxide from fossil fuel-fired power plants in May 2023. The EPA explained that this proposal sets much-needed updated limits for new gas-fired combustion turbines, existing coal, oil, and gas-fired steam generating units, and certain existing gas-fired combustion. 

The new EPA standards will reduce coal ash, carbon, mercury, wastewater, and other power plant pollutants that have impacts on human health and the wider ecosystems where these plants operate. 

The EPA’s carbon pollution power plant standards, alongside the Inflation Reduction Act, which was passed in Aug. 2022, are projected to reduce carbon pollution by up to 75% by 2035. In the long term, the standards targeting mercury and air pollution will create $300 million in health benefits. Standards affecting wastewater are projected to eliminate 660 million pounds of pollution. Standards aimed at reducing coal ash will require the cleanup of over 389 sites. By 2035 the carbon standards created by the EPA will save an estimated 1,200 lives and prevent 360,000 cases of asthma symptoms in men, women, and children across the country. 

Catholic Climate Covenant praises the EPA for this important new regulation, which will improve the quality of life and the health and well-being of the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters for generations to come. The Covenant, along with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), has supported similar EPA efforts in the past, including this new rule when it was first proposed. 

The USCCB issued a public comment on the EPA’s proposed regulations on June 30, 2023.

“Due to rapid advances in technological research and development, there is evidence that ambitious carbon emissions reductions standards for power plants can today be met through carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology within acceptable economic costs,” the USCCB testified. “In addition, through the extension of tax credits for CCS through the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), new and retrofitted power plants are projected to provide affordable low emissions energy in line with Paris Agreement goals.

“The proposed rule fulfills the USCCB’s request that the EPA regulate greenhouse gasses while also respecting the Supreme Court’s decision, made more effective now through congressional action and technological improvements.”

The Covenant also provided oral testimony about the proposed regulations on June 15, 2023. 

“Catholic Climate Covenant supports the EPA’s proposed regulations of Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Fossil Fuel-Fired Electric Generating Units and calls the EPA to push forward the deadline for compliance, make more stringent the guidelines for exemption from regulation, and engage more intentionally with communities directly affected by plants and their regulations. 

“The limitations on emissions put in place by the proposed rule would hold the plants, which are responsible for 25% of overall US emissions, accountable for the health and environmental damage they are causing. The proposed rule would not only reduce carbon dioxide, but also other harmful pollutants such as particulate matter, nitrous oxides, and sulfur dioxide. Through the rule’s ability to regulate new, modified, and existing plants that run on both coal and natural gas, it has the potential to lower carbon emissions by over 1,000 million metric tons through 2042. This reduction will alleviate both health and environmental degradation, which can be monetized to a net savings of up to $85 billion between 2024 and 2042.

“These standards also promote environmental justice by lowering the environmental impact of power plants, which are disproportionately concentrated around low-income areas and communities of color.”

Dan Misleh, interim director of Catholic Climate Covenant, spoke about the importance of the new EPA standards and their impact on our common home. 

“As stewards of our planet, the Covenant applauds the EPA’s bold step toward safeguarding our common home through these new standards,” Misleh said. “These standards, rooted in both science and compassion, echo the wisdom and call to action in Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’. Laudato Si’ calls all of us to protect our common home and care for its most vulnerable inhabitants. The EPA’s new standards help to do just that.”

The Covenant hopes that, moving forward, the EPA and Congressional action will continue efforts to improve the environment, climate, health, and well-being of God’s creation and people.

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