The new EPA emissions rule


On April 25, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued far-reaching new rules concerning coal-fired power plants: They must capture the air pollution that they produce, or they will have to shut down. The federal agency’s action is part of the Biden administration’s goal to reduce carbon emissions by half by 2032, requiring steep cuts in the coal and gas industry, with accelerated production in renewables like wind and solar.

The EPA requires new plants to reduce nearly 90 percent of their carbon pollution. Michael Regan, the EPA administrator, claims that it will be the equivalent of removing some 325 million gasoline-powered automobiles each year.

The negative impact on life, health, and the climate of these emissions have been fully studied. According to scientists at Duke and Columbia University and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, “research shows that improved air quality caused by reducing emissions from burning fossil fuels and other sources would improve human health and prevent economic losses.” Their study demonstrated that carbon emissions cause death, lung diseases, polluted water supplies, heating of the atmosphere, and several other negative outcomes.

When he was president, Donald J. Trump rolled back more than 100 EPA environmental rules, often with the help of his then-energy secretary, Dan Brouillette. Now president and CEO of Edison Electric Institute, Brouillette issued a statement, saying that the technology “is not yet ready for full-scale, economy-wide deployment, nor is there sufficient time to permit, finance, and build the CCS [carbon capture and storage] infrastructure needed for compliance by 2032.” And the head of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, Jim Matheson, said, “The path outlined by the EPA today is unlawful, unrealistic, and unachievable.”

The EPA expects several Republican-led states and energy industries to challenge the new rule in court. They will claim that national and state electric grids will be unable to handle the reduction and that EPA has gone beyond its authority to create these regulations.

The EPA maintains that its rule falls within the restrictions established by the Supreme Court in 2022 when it ruled that capping gas emissions from power plants constitutes “a major question,” and Congress must empower the EPA to do so. The new rule is apparently far less restrictive than the Obama-era Clean Power Act, which the court struck down in West Virginia v. EPA.

The EPA claims the rule does not require plants to cap emissions, but rather capture them. This means plants need not invest in new, expensive equipment, but could mix gasses with other fuels that do not emit carbon. The EPA says that these methods are cost-effective. The precise decision on how to achieve the capture would be left to the industry.

If readers are interested in knowing the air quality where they live, the EPA has an online map it keeps updated. New England is in region one, and as of this writing, the map shows that air quality on the Vineyard is good, the highest range in its index. Prevailing winds make air quality subject to change, but the good news is that coal-fired power plants no longer exist in Massachusetts. The last one in the commonwealth shut down five years ago, when the cooling towers at the Brayton Point Station, just outside Fall River, were flattened.

Today, in place of the towers, the Brayton Point Commerce Station is under construction as “a renewable energy hub, manufacturing center, and an international seaport.” Last year, the station won the Costar Impact Award as the redevelopment of the year in the Boston region. Costar, an analytics firm, awards exemplary commercial real estate projects.

More good news is that the last two coal-fired power plants in New England will cease operations in 2025 and 2028, respectively. They are the New Hampshire Schiller and Merrimack Stations. 

The bad news is that some 217 coal-fired plants in the U.S. continue to operate. And winds carry these emissions all over the country, including Massachusetts and our homes. The new EPA rules are doable, and necessary at a time when we must act to clean up the air for ourselves and our future generations.


Jack Fruchtman, who lives in Aquinnah, serves on the board of directors and executive committee of the Vineyard Conservation Society. The views expressed here are his own and not those of VCS.


  1. It’s amazing that there are that many coal fired plants
    still operating in the U.S.
    How can people not understand how bad that is for
    all the reasons Jack mentions.
    But some people making a lot of money managed to
    convince the wilfully ignorant that smog from
    coal was good for them and it helped plants grow.
    Most people today know better, but there are some who
    still long for the good old days when America was great
    and the “little people” just kept their mouths shut
    and worked 70 hours a week to feed their 8 kids.
    And then those damned hippies came along and
    ruined everything.

  2. Jack, thank you for this article. We need more like this to raise awareness of the impact of burning fossil fuels.
    The Chinese have been working nonstop to take advantage of renewable energy because they know it gives them a tremendous economic advantage over other countries. It’s not an accident that they have an amazing slate of electric cars, some of which are incredibly cheap, $12,000 for a brand new 4-door car; or super fast charging (10 minutes for 300 miles of range).
    Biden just added 100% tariffs to electric cars to protect our auto industry. The oil companies have been putting out propaganda continuously for years to discourage Americans from investing in electric cars because they are making trillions selling gasoline and they don’t want average Americans to have nearly-free transportation. Oil barons want a big part of our paychecks.
    Tariffs won’t work forever, and they are only making solar and cars more expensive for you and me.

    • You do know China is the largest producer of pollution in the world? And generally the make cheap crap. There ev cars are no exception.Do some research.

  3. It is shocking that there are still so many coal plants operating in the US. The carbon emissions from coal stacks are bad enough but only represent a portion of the environmental damage that these plants produce. Fly ash, mercury, SO2, and NO2 also are dirty byproducts of coal plants. These all do heavy damage to plants, animals and humans. You can add the destruction of mountains via diesel fired equipment to mine the coal, and the heavy oil burned in the barges that carry the coal to the list of coal related noxious effluents. However, not all fossil fuels are created equal. You can’t just turn off the coal plants. Natural gas plants, while far from perfect, represent the only real viable bridge to a primarily renewable future. They are clean(er), much more flexible, and the fuel is cheap and plentiful. And by the time we get enough solar, wind and nuclear – yes nuclear – on board, we can get rid of the natural gas plants too. But first, let’s start shutting down the coal plants.

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