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Fossil Power Generation Related EPA Rules Since 2009

Under the Obama Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has actively proposed numerous rules impacting Fossil Power Generation. Below is a summary of EPA action since 2009.

Key Details

National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) – The Clean Air Act, last amended in 1990, requires the EPA to set NAAQS for wide-spread pollutants considered harmful to public health and the environment and to review those standards every five years. The Clean Air Act established two types of national air quality standards. Primary standards set limits to protect public health, including the health of at-risk populations such as people with pre-existing heart or lung disease (ex. asthmatics), children, and older adults. Secondary standards set limits to protect public welfare, including protection against visibility impairment, damage to animals, crops, vegetation, and buildings. Ultimately, the EPA sets NAAQS for six principal pollutants called “criteria” pollutants shown in the table below.

Clean Power Plan – Establishes statewide carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions standards for existing fossil fuel-fired electric generating units with the goal of cutting CO2 emissions by 32%, as measured from a 2005 baseline, by 2030. Officially published in the Federal Register on October 23, 2015, the government’s daily record. Immediately following Federal Register publication, more than 20 states filed a formal petition for review (i.e., take another look at this rule) with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on October 23. West Virginia lead petitioner in consolidated cases compiled as West Virginia et al. v. EPA et al. (No. 15-1363). Some states simultaneously filed with the D.C. Court of Appeals a separate request to stay the rule (i.e., halt its implementation pending results of review).

Carbon Pollution Standards (CPS) for New, Modified, and Reconstructed Power Plants – Applicable to brand new sources built in the future or to an existing unit that meets certain, specific conditions described in the Clean Air Act and associated implementing regulations for being “modified” or “reconstructed”. The EPA established separate standards for two types of fossil fuel-fired sources: (i) stationary combustion turbines, generally firing natural gas; and (ii) electric utility steam generating units, generally firing coal. The EPA’s intent with CPS is to limit emissions of greenhouse gas pollution manifested as CO2. Final standards reflect the degree of emission limitation achievable through the application of the “best system of emission reduction” the EPA determined adequately demonstrated for each type of unit. Officially published in the Federal Register on October 23, 2015.

Coal Combustion Residuals (CCRs) – The intent is to address the risks from coal ash disposal—leaking contaminants into ground water, blowing of contaminants into the air as dust, and the catastrophic failure of coal ash surface impoundments. Additionally, the rule sets out recordkeeping and reporting requirements as well as the requirements for each facility to establish and post specific information to a publicly accessible website. This final rule also supports the responsible recycling of CCRs by distinguishing safe, beneficial use from disposal. The final rule was issued in December 2014 and officially published in the Federal Register on April 17, 2015.

Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) – CSAPR required 27 states in the eastern half of the United States to significantly improve air quality by reducing power plant emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) that cross state lines and contribute to ground-level ozone and fine particle pollution in other states. SO2 and NOx react in the atmosphere to form fine particles and ground-level ozone making it difficult for states to which they are transported to achieve National Air Quality Standards. Six states were also required to make summertime NOx reductions under the CSAPR ozone-season control program; bringing the total number of states affected by CSAPR to 28. CSAPR took effect January 1, 2015 for SO2 and annual NOx and May 1, 2015 for ozone season NOx. Combined with other final state and EPA actions, the CSAPR was expected to reduce power plant SO2 emissions by 73% and NOx emissions by 54% from 2005 levels in the CSAPR region. The map of the continental United States shows which states are not impacted by CSAPR, which are controlled for ozone, which are controlled for fine particles, and which are controlled for both ozone and fine particles.

Source: website–

Cooling Water Intake – Thousands of industrial facilities use large volumes of water from lakes, rivers, estuaries, or oceans to cool their plants. The EPA estimates that more than half of all water withdrawn in the United States each year is for cooling purposes. Cooling water intake structures” can cause adverse environmental impact by pulling large numbers of fish, shellfish, or their eggs into a power plant’s or factory’s cooling system or killing organisms due to the heat generated or chemicals used. Section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act requires the EPA to issue regulations on the design and operation of intake structures to minimize adverse impacts. Facilities that use cooling water intake structures designed to withdraw at least two million gallons per day from U.S. waters and have a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit are subject to this rule. Impacted industrial sectors include electric generating plants and petroleum refineries among others. The final rule was published in the Federal Register on August 15, 2014 and went into effect on October 14, 2014. The rule addresses location, design, construction, and capacity of cooling water intake structures and reflects the best technology available for minimizing adverse environmental impact.

Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MAT) – This rule finalized revised limits pertaining to hydrogen chloride, filterable PM (fPM), SO2, lead, and selenium for all new, coal-fired electricity generating units (EGUs); the mercury emission limit for the “unit designed for coal greater than or equal to 8,300 Btu/lb. subcategory;” fPM emission limits for new, continental liquid oil-fired EGUs; and most of the emission limits for new, integrated gasification combined-cycle units. The EPA initially announced national emission standards for hazardous air pollutants; specifically, standards to limit mercury, acid gases, and other toxic pollution from coal- and oil-fired power plants in December 2011. In July 2012, the scope of the rule was adjusted to apply only to newly constructed fossil fuel-fired power plants. After revisions and public comment, the final rule was officially published in the Federal Register on April 24, 2013.

MATs for Startup and Shutdown – Feedback regarding the April 24, 2013 rule necessitated the EPA to reconsider startup and shutdown provisions applicable to coal- and oil-fired electric utilities under the MATs. This final rule, published November 19, 2014, included updated definitions and work practice standards and adjusted certain monitoring and testing requirements strictly related to periods of startup and shutdown.


The EPA rules since 2009 require resource owners to continually make tough decisions about their generation units. With another 14 months left in the current administration, ongoing EPA activity bears watching.

More information

U.S. News: Clean Power Plan: 61 Percent of Public Supports Clean Power Plan in States Suing to Stop It

SNL: ERCOT: Clean Power Plan Could Trigger 4000 MW in Plant Closures

This report is part of ScottMadden’s Fossil Minute series. To view all featured Fossil Minutes, please click here.

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