Members of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) slammed the EPA’s final rule for coal- and new natural gas-fired plants on a conference call with reporters Tuesday, calling it unlawful, unrealistic and a threat to reliability.

This comes a day after the trade association, which represents nearly 900 U.S. local electric cooperatives, filed a motion to stay the rule in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

As we’ve reported, coal and new gas plants would have to capture their emissions using carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) or retire by various compliance dates in the 2030s.

Jim Matheson, CEO of NRECA, said carbon capture technologies are promising but not ready for prime time, especially under the compliance deadlines EPA set in the final rule. This is one of the chief arguments from opponents of the rule.

“This is a flawed rule,” said Matheson. “We have multiple members across the country that face not only massive costs if they could implement this, but also requirements to use a technology that’s simply not ready,” he added, referring to CCS.

Plant owners are expected to file their implementation plans by May of 2026. Yet of the more than 75 coal-fired units owned or operated by members of NRECA, the association knows of only 3 units that could plausibly attempt to demonstrate CCS at any notable level by the 2030s compliance dates — yet even they would not come close to meeting the rule’s 90% capture rate, according to one exhibit in court filings.

Two of those units are at the coal-fired Milton R. Young Station near Center, North Dakota. Minnkota Power Cooperative and TC Energy are hosting a large-scale carbon capture demonstration project there, known as Project Tundra. NRECA noted in court filings that the project sits atop ideal geology for storage, has been in planning for nearly a decade, has used government funding for two-thirds of the costs so far, yet still would not meet the 90% capture rate.

“I have great confidence that we’re going to capture substantial amounts of CO2 from [Project Tundra],” said Mac McLennan, CEO of Minnkota Power Cooperative, which operates primarily in the states of North Dakota and Minnesota. “But for us to have a reference point called a 90% removal from EPA when it’s yet to be demonstrated or verified, it causes me pause.”

90% capture or otherwise, McLennan said the soonest Project Tundra could be commercially online would be 2028 and 2029, but other variable factors that could further delay the project include labor and supply chain constraints.

Matheson said matter-of-factly: “The short answer is there is not some silver bullet technology that is going to achieve the Biden administration’s stated goal of zero emissions from the electric sector by 2035.”

Opponents argue the EPA rule would be a death blow to the coal industry. Under the rule, coal plants which plan to stay open beyond 2039 would have to reduce or capture 90% of their CO2 emissions by 2032. Coal plants that are scheduled to close by 2039 would have to cut their emissions 16% by 2030, while those that are set to retire by 2032 would be exempted from the new rule.

Tony Campbell, President and CEO of East Kentucky Power Cooperative, said coal-fired power has proved necessary during extreme cold snaps. He said retiring coal units too early would jeopardize reliability.

He said natural gas is not the solution or “stepping stone” everyone thinks it is. He said the co-op couldn’t get natural gas during Winter Storm Elliott during frozen infrastructure. While a lot of those units are dual fuel, Campbell said onsite diesel reserves might last a few days, where coal plants would have 40 to 60 days of reserves.

We’re not misguided by a belief that we have to have coal forever,” he said, “But we do believe that coal right now is supporting the system.”

Campbell added the reliability challenge will be compounded by significant projected load growth in the U.S., largely driven by artificial intelligence.

“Our responsibility is to deliver reliable, affordable and safe power to the end consumer,” he said. “Electricity is no longer a luxury in our country, it’s a necessity.”

NRECA’s motion to stay the EPA rule comes nearly a week after the association filed a lawsuit challenging the rule. A coalition of 23 states also challenged the rule in court.

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