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We’re leading an all-out national mobilization to defeat the climate crisis.

Join our work today to help us build a thriving and just clean energy future. 

Power Plants Can No Longer Spew Unlimited Carbon Pollution for the First Time in U.S. History

EPA released first-ever federal carbon standards for coal and gas-fired power plants. Here’s what the rules say and why they matter.

Composite image of a white document with the EPA logo and a background image of coal power plant smoke stacks.


Key Takeaways

  • On April 25, 2024, EPA finalized the first-ever power plant pollution standards.
  • The first rule requires existing coal plants to reduce their pollution by 90 percent by 2032 if they aren’t already retiring. The second requires new baseload gas plants, or those running 40 percent or more of the year, to reduce their emissions by 90 percent by 2032.
  • Together, these rules are estimated to curb over 1.4 billion metric tons of carbon pollution and create $270 billion in climate benefits and $120 billion in public health benefits.



Thanks to new federal carbon standards, dirty coal and gas plants can no longer spew unlimited amounts of climate pollution—for the first time in U.S. history. 

The Biden administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just announced the first-ever federal carbon standards for power plants, with most covered plants required to cut their pollution by 90 percent by 2032. Power plants produce a quarter of our nation’s carbon pollution, largely because a majority of our country’s electricity still comes from polluting sources, like coal. Setting these standards is a massive step forward in improving communities’ air, health, and safety and bringing our climate goals within reach. 

For communities that have been forced to live in the shadows of polluting facilities and belching smokestacks, these rules will literally bring cleaner air and better health. Tragically, like so much of our country’s fossil fuel infrastructure, coal and gas power plants are disproportionately in low-income communities and communities of color. These standards are one essential part of EPA’s broader power sector work to clean up the pollution that has recklessly burdened these communities for far too long. 

Critically, this move creates a positive ripple effect across nearly all other sectors of our economy. That’s because as more cars, trucks, and buildings electrify, they’ll be tapping into a cleaner, decarbonized grid. Decarbonizing our power sector is at the core of building a cleaner, healthier economy—and it’s widely popular with a majority of voters supporting EPA’s carbon standards

Unsurprisingly, the forces that worked hardest in attempting to weaken or block these commonsense standards are the ones that stand to benefit from indefinite years of pollution: the fossil fuel industry and its profit-hungry cronies. But despite polluters’ attempts to sow doubt on the legitimacy of these rules, setting standards that regulate carbon pollution like these is literally EPA’s job. EPA has the authority to regulate power plant pollution following the West Virginia v. EPA case. In fact, Congress just reinforced this authority in the Clean Air Act Amendments of 2022, so the final version of these standards is not only highly anticipated and popular, but an example of EPA fulfilling a key part of its mandate.  


So, What Exactly Do These New Power Plant Rules Say?

These standards will regulate pollution from two types of plants: the existing coal fleet and newly proposed gas plants in the U.S.—with different requirements for each. 

A wide angle shot of a white coal power plant spewing exhaust from its chimney.

A majority of our country’s electricity still comes from polluting sources, like coal. Pictured: A coal-fired power plant in West Virginia.

1. Existing coal fleet

The first rule requires existing coal plants to reduce their pollution by 90 percent by 2032 if they aren’t set to retire. To put that into context, coal made up one-fifth of total U.S. power generation in 2022, but it emitted over half of the entire power sector’s pollution. 

Coal is the most polluting way to generate electricity, and this rule tackles coal’s outsized pollution impact head-on, bringing relief to communities long-burdened by its devastating pollution. From the proposal stage to the finalization of the rule, EPA lengthened the compliance timeline by two years (from 2030 to 2032). While this timeline is less stringent than what Evergreen and other climate advocates had called for, states and utilities now have no excuse not to reach this durable and attainable standard on time. 

A wide angle shot of a white gas power plant. Exhaust is seen coming out of the side structures.

More gas power plants will be covered under EPA's strengthened rule. Pictured: A gas-fired power plant in Utah. © 2008 arbyreed/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

2. Newly proposed gas plants

The second standard applies to proposed gas plants. New baseload plants, or those running 40 percent or more of the year, would be required to reduce their emissions by 90 percent by 2032. Since EPA released its proposed rules in May 2023, Evergreen and advocates across the climate movement have been hard at work urging the strongest possible rules to get finalized. Thanks, in part, to our strong collective advocacy, EPA strengthened this rule since it was proposed last year—by lowering the cutoff from 50 percent to 40 percent and moving up the requirements from 2035 to 2032. That means many more plants will be covered with the strongest requirements, and they’ll need to cut their pollution faster. 

EPA is planning to re-propose its standard covering existing gas plants in an effort to strengthen the carbon and local pollution impacts. While those plants will remain unregulated for the time being, we are optimistic EPA will follow through on that commitment and propose a strong rule that cuts climate pollution, covers the entire gas fleet, and includes strong environmental justice protections. 


States and Utilities Have Full Flexibility and Years of Lead Time to Meet These Standards

The standards EPA sets are based on what is possible given the best current technology available. For this rule, those technologies are carbon capture or efficiency improvements, depending on the type of plant. But while these rules set the pollution threshold that power plants must achieve, they do not prescribe how that pollution level is met. That means there’s no requirement for plants to install carbon capture—or any other technology. That’s up for states and utilities to decide. 

The standard covering existing coal plants must be implemented by states, and they will have two years to determine their implementation plans. States have full flexibility, as long as their plan achieves the same level of pollution reduction. The standard for new gas plants kicks in immediately, and individual plants and utilities are required to achieve the pollution standards set by the rule if they want to build any new plants.

Moreover, utilities have nearly a decade to achieve these common-sense pollution standards. With such a long lead time, grid operators have ample opportunity to ensure a reliable grid—so don’t let their public hand-waving and bluster fool you. Utility companies have a track record of crying wolf about complying with pollution standards, attacking the proposals at every turn, only to turn around and achieve them at minimal cost and ahead of schedule. 

But there’s no excuse for inaction. Thanks to the game-changing investments in the Inflation Reduction Act, utilities and states can tap into clean energy tax credits to achieve these pollution standards without impacting energy bills. EPA’s standards, combined with the expected changes in the power sector thanks to incentives in the IRA, motivate utilities to pursue the investments that are best for Americans’ health, wallets, and climate.  

What’s Next?

The baton now passes to states to implement the standards for coal-fired plants. They have two years to finalize their state-level plans and have complete flexibility on how they meet these standards. Once they determine their plans, they will submit them back to EPA for federal approval. 

The rule for new gas plants goes into effect immediately, and it’s up to individual plants and utilities to achieve the standards if they wish to expand their gas fleet. Currently, utility companies across the Southeast like Duke Energy, Georgia Power, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), and Dominion have proposals in queue to build dozens of ill-conceived gas plants. If these are to move forward, they would need to significantly curb their carbon pollution to align with the new standards. 

Lastly, the proposed rule covering existing gas plants is still forthcoming, and it represents a major opportunity to cover the last unregulated source of power plant pollution. It’s important for EPA to address all forms of dangerous pollution in these standards, including co-pollutants. 

These new power plant standards have been thoughtfully designed to be stringent, actionable, and legally tight, but that likely won’t stop the fossil fuel lobby and its enablers from fighting these rules to protect their profits. Our job isn’t done yet. We must work hard to protect these hard-won regulations, ensure they are robustly implemented by the states, and continue to advocate for the strongest possible protections to safeguard our health and the climate.