Biden-Harris Administration Finalizes Rules to Reduce Pollution from Fossil Fuel-Fired Power Plants

April 29, 2024
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a suite of final rules to reduce pollution from fossil fuel-fired power plants in order to protect all communities from pollution and improve public health without disrupting the delivery of reliable electricity. These rules, finalized under separate authorities including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, will significantly reduce climate, air, water, and land pollution from the power sector, delivering on the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to protect public health, advance environmental justice, and confront the climate crisis.
By announcing these final rules at the same time, EPA is following through on the commitment that Administrator Michael S. Regan made to industry stakeholders at CERAWeek 2022 to provide regulatory certainty as the power sector makes long-term investments in the transition to a clean energy economy. The standards are designed to work with the power sector’s planning processes, providing compliance timelines that enable power companies to plan in advance to meet electricity demand while reducing dangerous pollution.
“Today, EPA is proud to make good on the Biden-Harris Administration’s vision to tackle climate change and to protect all communities from pollution in our air, water, and in our neighborhoods,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “By developing these standards in a clear, transparent, inclusive manner, EPA is cutting pollution while ensuring that power companies can make smart investments and continue to deliver reliable electricity for all Americans.”
“This year, the United States is projected to build more new electric generation capacity than we have in two decades – and 96 percent of that will be clean,” said President Biden’s National Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi. “President Biden’s leadership has not only sparked an unprecedented expansion in clean electricity generation, his leadership has also launched an American manufacturing renaissance. America is now a magnet for private investment, with hundreds of billions of dollars committed and 270,000 new clean energy jobs created. This is how we win the future, by harnessing new technologies to grow our economy, deliver environmental justice, and save the planet for future generations.”
The suite of final rules includes:
  • A final rule for existing coal-fired and new natural gas-fired power plants that would ensure that all coal-fired plants that plan to run in the long-term and all new baseload gas-fired plants control 90 percent of their carbon pollution.
  • A final rule strengthening and updating the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) for coal-fired power plants, tightening the emissions standard for toxic metals by 67 percent and finalizing a 70 percent reduction in the emissions standard for mercury from existing lignite-fired sources.
  • A final rule to reduce pollutants discharged through wastewater from coal-fired power plants by more than 660 million pounds per year, ensuring cleaner water for affected communities, including communities with environmental justice concerns that are disproportionately impacted.
  • A final rule that will require the safe management of coal ash that is placed in areas that were unregulated at the federal level until now, including at previously used disposal areas that may leak and contaminate groundwater.
Delivering Public Health Protections for Communities, Providing Regulatory Certainty for the Industry, and Ensuring the Power Sector Can Provide Reliable Electricity for Consumers
Finalizing these four rules delivers on the Administration’s commitment to providing health protections for all communities, including communities with environmental justice concerns, many of which are located near power plants. At the same time, EPA is providing a predictable regulatory outlook for power companies, including opportunities to reduce compliance complexity, and clear signals to create market and price stability. Administrator Regan outlined this approach in 2022 when he committed to transparency and open dialogue so that state and federal energy regulators, power companies, and grid operators have clear information on which to base decisions.
EPA conducted regulatory impact analyses for each rule, showing that this suite of standards will deliver hundreds of billions of dollars in net benefits. EPA also performed a sensitivity analysis exploring the combined effect on the power sector of the carbon pollution, air toxics, and water rules, as well as EPA’s recent rules for the transportation sector. The projections regarding changes in electricity supply and demand align with recent reports from the Department of Energy (DOE) and National Renewable Energy Laboratory and peer-reviewed research in showing that the sector can meet growing demand for electricity and provide reliable, affordable electricity at the same time as it reduces pollution in accordance with these rules to protect health and the planet.
With the announcement today, the power sector can make planning decisions with a full array of information. In fact, the agency’s analysis indicates that issuing these rules at the same time is likely to create more efficiency for facilities that are now able to evaluate compliance steps together rather than only for each rule in isolation. Therefore, adding the cost of the rules modeled independently would likely reflect an overestimate of total costs.
“The new rules to clean up air pollution from power plants are good news for everyone, especially if there is a power plant near where you work, live or study. The American Lung Association applauds Administrator Regan and the entire team of professionals at the EPA for their resolute commitment to public health and environmental justice,” said Harold Wimmer, President and CEO of the American Lung Association. “Burning fossil fuels in power plants harms people’s lungs, makes kids sick and accelerates the climate crisis. The stronger clean air and climate protections will save lives.”
“These rules call on utilities and states to be full partners in making this transition fair for energy workers and communities,” said BlueGreen Alliance Executive Director Jason Walsh. “It also complements the historic federal investments made by the Biden-Harris administration and the previous Congress, which provide a toolbox of critical investments targeted to the workers and communities experiencing the economic impacts of energy transition.”
Hanover Foods Cited for Exposing Workers to Dozens of Safety, Health Hazards
The U.S. Department of Labor has again found Hanover Foods Corp., a large food manufacturer with a history of hazardous workplace safety practices, in violation of dozens of safety and health violations at its Centre Hall facility.
The producer of glass-pack, canned, frozen, refrigerated, freeze-dried and snack food products under the Hanover brand as well as other private labels also operates eight other manufacturing plants, including five in Pennsylvania and one each in Delaware, New Jersey and Guatemala.
In October 2023, inspectors with the department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration opened an investigation at the Centre Hall plant in response to a complaint alleging hazards involving the company's handling of highly hazardous chemicals, included in Hanover's Process Safety Management program.
OSHA cited the company for 70 violations, including nine repeat, 51 serious and 11 other-than-serious violations. The infractions related to numerous Process Safety Management failures, such as lack of training; not correcting equipment deficiencies; failing to document that equipment complied with recognized and generally accepted good engineering practices and to establish an emergency plan for the entire plant.
The agency has assessed Hanover Foods Corp. with $761,876 in penalties. OSHA cited the company for similar violations at its Clayton, Delaware, facility in 2019 and 2021.
“Hanover Foods Corp. put its employees at risk of serious safety and health hazards by not complying with federal and industry-recognized safety standards at another of its facilities,” said OSHA Area Director Kevin T. Chambers in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. “We will use all of our resources to hold employers accountable when they neglect their legal duty to protect their workers from harm.”
Workers in the U.S. suffer more than 190,000 illnesses and approximately 50,000 deaths annually related to chemical exposures. OSHA's website provides an overview of chemical hazards and toxic substances to provide employers and employees with tips to recognize hazards and control exposures.
EPA Finalizes Stronger Chemical Risk Evaluation Process to Protect Workers and Communities
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finalized a rule that strengthens its process for conducting risk evaluations on chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). These improvements to EPA’s processes advance the goals of this important chemical safety law, ensure that TSCA risk evaluations comprehensively account for the risks associated with a chemical, and provide a solid foundation for protecting public health, including workers and communities, from toxic chemicals. The rule also includes changes to enhance environmental protections in communities overburdened by pollution, complementing the Biden-Harris Administration’s ambitious environmental justice agenda.
“Everything we do to protect our nation, including workers and communities, from toxic chemical exposures must be comprehensive and grounded in strong science,” said Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Michal Freedhoff. “This rule charts the path for our risk evaluations to ensure we meet the core objective to protect public health under our nation’s premier chemical safety law, which will in turn lead to rules that workers and communities can count on to keep them safe.”
The 2016 TSCA amendments require that EPA establish a procedural framework rule on the process for conducting chemical risk evaluations. TSCA risk evaluations are the basis for EPA’s risk management rules that protect people and the environment from harmful chemicals. Although EPA finalized a risk evaluation framework rule in 2017, that rule was challenged in court. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit remanded several provisions of the rule back to the agency for reconsideration. Another aspect of the litigation, related to the policy to categorically exclude the consideration of exposures from breathing polluted air or drinking contaminated water, was deemed not ripe for review by the court.
EPA’s final rule includes revisions made to respond to the court’s ruling, as well as several changes to improve EPA’s process for TSCA risk evaluations, including:
  • Consideration of real-world exposure scenarios such as multiple exposure pathways (e.g., in air and water) to the same chemical, and combined risks from multiple chemicals when EPA has the scientific information to do so, which may be particularly important for communities who face greater exposures or susceptibilities to chemicals than the rest of the general population.
  • A requirement that risk evaluations are comprehensive in scope and do not exclude conditions of use or exposure pathways.
  • Clarifications to ensure EPA appropriately considers risks to all workers in its risk evaluations.
  • Consideration of chemical uses that may be required for national security or critical infrastructure by other Federal agencies.
  • Assurance the agency will continue to use the best available science to conduct risk evaluations, that decisions are based on the weight of the scientific evidence and that risk evaluations will be peer reviewed in accordance with both federal and EPA guidance.
  • Discussion of chemical-specific fit-for-purpose approaches that allow for varying types and levels of analysis so that risk evaluations focus less rigorously on the conditions of use that are expected to pose low potential risk and can reliably be completed within the timeframes required by the statute.
  • A clear requirement for risk evaluations to culminate in a single risk determination on the chemical substance, rather than on individual chemical conditions of use in isolation, and improved communications regarding the uses that significantly contribute to the unreasonable risk.
  • New procedures and criteria for whether and how EPA will revise scope and risk evaluation documents, to improve transparency.
  • Adjustments to the process for submission and review of manufacturer requests for risk evaluations of chemicals to better align with the process and timeline associated with EPA-initiated risk evaluations, while also ensuring that the agency can use the authorities provided under the law for gathering any needed additional information on such chemicals.
  • A requirement that risk evaluations must explicitly consider overburdened communities when identifying potentially exposed and susceptible populations as relevant to the risk evaluation.
EPA announced many of the changes included in the final rule in 2021 and has incorporated them into TSCA risk evaluation activities over the past three years. EPA then proposed a revised procedural framework rule in October 2023 and, after carefully considering public comment on the proposed rule, released today’s final rule. The procedures outlined in the rule apply to all risk evaluations initiated 30 days after the date of publication of the final rule or later. For risk evaluations that are currently in process, EPA expects to apply the new procedures to those risk evaluations to the extent practicable, taking into consideration the statutory requirements and deadlines.
EPA Settles with Rhode Island Corporation for Hazardous Waste Violations 
Interplex Engineered Products, a manufacturer of electrical conductors located in East Providence, Rhode Island, will pay a fine of $59,044 as part of a settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency relating to alleged violations of hazardous waste management laws. Under the settlement, the company has agreed to pay a penalty of $59,044 for seven alleged violations, and certified compliance for the facility with RCRA and state hazardous waste regulations.
"It is crucial that companies properly manage their hazardous wastes," said EPA New England Regional Administrator David W. Cash. "Improper management of these wastes can lead to releases of dangerous chemicals – in this case cyanide waste. Due to EPA's enforcement action, these storage violations are being rightfully addressed, and the company has agreed to correct its mistakes and practice compliance moving forward."
EPA alleged that Interplex Engineered Products, Inc. violated the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and federally-authorized Rhode Island hazardous waste management regulations, at its Rhode Island facility. The facility's wastewater treatment area had a hazardous waste storage area that contained 12, 55-gallon drums of cyanide waste. The drums were stored near a grated drainage trench in the floor. This drainage trench, which ran through various other parts of the wastewater treatment area, served to capture any spilled liquid material, and transport it to a sump. Other parts of the wastewater treatment area served by the trench were designated to store sulfuric acid and other acids.
If both sulfuric acid and cyanide waste were spilled and mixed in the trench or in the sump, the mixture could react and generate toxic and flammable vapors. The violations alleged by EPA include failure to minimize the possibility of fire, explosion, or unplanned release of hazardous waste; not maintaining adequate aisle space between waste containers; not conducting weekly inspections; not keeping waste containers closed, labelled, and dated; and not providing the contingency plan to local authorities.
Interplex is owned by Interplex Holdings, a multinational company headquartered in Singapore that manufactures electrical connectors for the auto, medical, and information/communication industries. The company generates numerous forms of waste at its East Providence facility, including hazardous waste. Specifically, Interplex generates cyanide waste through some of its activities at the facility as a job shop, providing molding, reel-to-reel plating, skiving, and assembly of electrical connectors.
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