Midnight Watch: Climate Change

Carbon Emissions Standards for New Power Plants

In December 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed to weaken New Source Performance Standards for carbon emissions from new and modified power plants. The agency’s proposed changes would allow new coal-fired power plants to release up to 35 percent more carbon emissions than allowed under existing regulations. As state attorneys general noted in comments filed in March 2019, the proposal violates the Clean Air Act’s mandate that New Source Performance standards reflect the “best” system for reducing emissions, as the proposal would in fact allow emissions to increase. The EPA could finalize the rollback during the transition period. 

Guidance on Treatment of Greenhouse Gases Under NEPA

In June 2019, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) published draft guidance on the treatment of greenhouse gases under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The draft guidance provided little clarity to federal agencies on how to weigh greenhouse gas emissions and climate impacts in NEPA reviews, and instead appeared to encourage agencies to avoid such considerations altogether, as state attorneys general noted in comments filed in August 2019. The administration has since moved ahead with a broad overhaul of NEPA implementing regulations, but the guidance remains unfinalized and its fate is unclear.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards for Airplanes

In August 2020, the EPA proposed the country’s first-ever greenhouse gas emissions standards for airplanes. The standards reflect existing industry practice and would have essentially no effect on the aviation sector’s actual emissions, as state attorneys general emphasized in comments filed in October 2020. The standards could be finalized during the transition period.