Reducing Carbon Dioxide Emissions at Coal Plants—and Surviving Legal Hurdles—with Natural Gas and the Clean Air Act

Cofiring with natural gas at coal-fired power plants may provide a path through the court system for a federal regulation on carbon dioxide.


May 18, 2021

News Type

Press Release

As the Biden administration looks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a new issue brief from Resources for the Future (RFF) models an approach that follows an established legal pathway under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act to set a performance standard for coal plants. The authors propose a standard built on the opportunity to cofire with natural gas—burning both coal and natural gas to generate electricity.

The approach would address most of the concerns courts have raised about previous federal CO2 regulations of existing facilities. Unlike the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which was stayed for being too broad, this approach applies the regulation directly to the emissions source. 

“Natural gas cofiring is already widespread,” said coauthor Dallas Burtraw. “Our modeling shows that a performance standard reflecting this practice for coal plants can cost-effectively reduce emissions and complement other environmental policies.”   

The RFF team modeled the outcomes of a natural gas cofiring standard using RFF’s Haiku electricity market model and found that:

  • A modest cofiring standard at coal plants can reduce carbon emissions significantly and rapidly.
  • Adding a cofiring standard to other national electricity policies accelerates emissions reductions. 
  • Cofiring regulations reduce emissions at a low cost—less than $13/ton of CO2.
  • Cofiring regulations reduce emissions at coal plants even in a low gas price world.
  • Health benefits from cofiring policies could be significant.  

“This proposal threads the regulatory needle, would accelerate emissions reductions and provide a soft landing for coal plants in the transition to a zero-carbon electricity sector,” Burtraw said.

To learn more, read the issue brief, “Reducing Coal Plant Emissions by Cofiring with Natural Gas,” by Research Analyst Maya Domeshek and Senior Fellow Dallas Burtraw.

Resources for the Future (RFF) is an independent, nonprofit research institution in Washington, DC. Its mission is to improve environmental, energy, and natural resource decisions through impartial economic research and policy engagement. RFF is committed to being the most widely trusted source of research insights and policy solutions leading to a healthy environment and a thriving economy.

Unless otherwise stated, the views expressed here are those of the individual authors and may differ from those of other RFF experts, its officers, or its directors. RFF does not take positions on specific legislative proposals.

For more information, please see our media resources page or contact Media Relations and Communications Specialist Annie McDarris.

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