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The Biden administration proposed new rules Thursday to drastically cut emissions from fossil fuel power plants, a major component of the president’s climate change agenda to achieve a zero-emission electrical grid by 2035.

Top White House and administration officials say the move is two-fold: reducing climate-warming emissions and improving Americans’ health through cleaner air.

“Our fundamental responsibility at EPA is to protect people’s health and safeguard the environment,” said Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan. “And a key part of our role is ensuring that all people in this country have clean air to breathe.”

But critics say the stringent rules targeting natural gas- and coal-fired power plants — which account for roughly 60% of the country’s electricity — could jeopardize U.S. energy security and fail to meet the nation’s energy needs. 

A Democrat has emerged as one of the fiercest critics of the proposal: Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia. The Senate Energy Committee chairman has vowed to oppose all of Mr. Biden’s future nominees for the EPA who require confirmation, a move that could cause headaches for the president with Democrats’ one-seat majority in the chamber.

Under the rules, plants would be forced to implement costly carbon capture technology, switch to renewables or shutter altogether if they fail to reduce or capture nearly all of their emissions by 2040.  

SEE ALSO: Manchin vows to oppose Biden EPA nominees over ‘radical climate agenda’ against power plants

“This administration is determined to advance its radical climate agenda and has made it clear they are hell-bent on doing everything in their power to regulate coal and gas-fueled power plants out of existence, no matter the cost to energy security and reliability,” Mr. Manchin said. “I fear that this administration’s commitment to their extreme ideology overshadows their responsibility to ensure long-lasting energy and economic security, and I will oppose all EPA nominees until they halt their government overreach.”  

Carbon capture, a little-used and expensive technology, takes carbon dioxide emissions and stores them so that they are not released into the air. But states and industry groups say the cumbersome permitting process for new energy projects is causing the EPA to lag in greenlighting new construction of carbon capture technologies.

Mr. Regan conceded to reporters that the EPA’s proposed rules, which will be open for public comment for the next two months and were issued under the Clean Air Act, will force some coal power plants to close because of the costs of reducing emissions. He suggested the onus is on states and power companies to use available technology to find a solution.

“What our analysis projects is that we will see some coal retirements. But the way this program is designed, this is really a decision that will be made company by company, state by state,” Mr. Regan said. “We’ve created a system that gives a ton of flexibility so that the power sector can make individual decisions based on available technology and the resources that they want to expand.”

Democrats’ tax-and-climate spending law from last year known as the Inflation Reduction Act included tax credits for plants that use carbon capture, hydrogen and other clean electricity incentives. 

The rules are certain to draw legal challenges once enacted. The Supreme Court ruled last year in West Virginia v. EPA that the agency lacks broad congressional authority under the Clean Air Act to curb emissions from power plants industry-wide. The case prompted the latest rules that administration officials insist will survive the courts because they allow emissions reductions through carbon capture rather than explicitly forcing plants to adopt other energy sources.

White House Climate Adviser Ali Zaidi suggested plants could switch to hydrogen — which currently produces 6% of U.S. electricity — in order to comply. He emphasized that the “focus here is on tackling pollution.”

“We know there are so many technologies that enable both new and existing power plants to do that, regardless of the fuel source,” he said.

As for consumers’ energy bills, Mr. Regan said an EPA analysis showed there would be a “negligible impact” to ratepayers while “yielding climate and public health benefits that far exceed those costs.”

Those health benefits, the EPA says, would mean reducing the amount of emissions through 2042 equivalent to 137 million passenger vehicles and prevent approximately 1,300 premature deaths, more than 800 hospital and emergency room visits, and more than 300,000 asthma attacks.

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