After Walking Back Pledge To Shutter Coal Plants, Biden Admin Proposes Rule That Could Shutter Coal Plants

EPA restrictions would impose new compliance costs on coal plants, which could force them to close

(Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images)
March 8, 2023

President Joe Biden's Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday proposed a rule that could force coal plants to close—just months after the White House walked back Biden's vow to shut down coal plants "all across America."

The proposed rule strengthens EPA regulations that require coal plants to filter certain metals out of their wastewater before release, a mandate that would likely require plant operators to invest in technology upgrades to comply. Those compliance costs, the Washington Post reported, could accelerate the phasing out of coal power by pushing plants to "shut down or switch to burning natural gas" rather than pay the increased costs under the rule. Coal power was the second-largest source of electricity in the United States in 2021, generating roughly 22 percent of the nation's total output, according to Energy Information Administration data.

While the EPA's announcement does not mention carbon emissions, the rule's potential impact reflects the intensity with which the Biden administration is working to fight climate change. It also flies in the face of White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre's insistence that the administration is not targeting coal plants.

Jean-Pierre in November walked back anti-coal comments from Biden, who said during a San Diego rally that the administration would be "shutting these [coal] plants down all across America and having wind and solar power." Biden, Jean-Pierre insisted, comes from "coal country" and was not threatening the industry's workers but rather observing the economic reality of the impending energy transition. "The president's words, we believe, were twisted," Jean-Pierre said.

The coal industry, which employed more than 120,000 Americans in 2021, disagreed. Coal industry group America's Power, for example, assailed Biden's "call to shut down coal power plants," saying a switch from coal to wind power would cost taxpayers $1.2 trillion dollars. Now, the EPA's proposed rule could expedite that transition.

The White House did not return a request for comment.

This is far from the first time the Biden administration has contradicted itself on energy policy. Climate czar John Kerry on Tuesday attacked oil and gas companies for announcing plans to increase production, an action that Biden for months has urged those companies to take.