Joanna Foster 3 minute read

Climate action bloomed this spring

Published:

This spring, a flurry of important policies by the Biden administration saw agencies rolling out long-awaited protections governing everything from corporate climate risk, to pollution from power plants and transportation. 

“The U.S. has been walking toward a safer climate and healthier air. This spring, we broke into a run,” says Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp. “The EPA is setting a leader’s pace in the global race to build the clean energy future.”

1. Cleaner cars and trucks

Trees blooming in a building courtyard
Blooming trees in the EPA courtyard will have cleaner air thanks to new EPA regulations. (shorblandscaping.com)

In March, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took what Peter Zalzal, EDF’s associate vice president for clean air strategies, called “one of the most consequential climate actions ever taken in this country” when it announced new tailpipe emission standards for newly manufactured passenger vehicles. The new rule, which applies to model years 2027 through 2032, is expected to prevent 7 billion tons of climate pollution by 2055. That's more than all the greenhouse gas emissions emitted by the U.S. last year. 

Tailpipe pollution is the biggest source of planet-warming pollution in the nation and is also harmful to health. The new standards are projected to prevent millions of asthma attacks and up to 2,500 premature deaths a year from conditions like heart disease and cancer. Automakers can meet the requirements, which apply as an average across fleets, by improving the efficiency of gas-powered vehicles as well as producing more hybrid and electric vehicles. 

Soon after this historic move, the EPA unveiled new standards for heavy-duty vehicles, like freight trucks, garbage trucks and school buses, with massive benefits for both climate and clean air. The standards will cut one billion tons of climate pollution and 53,000 tons of smog-forming nitrogen oxides by 2055. The EPA also announced a nearly $1 billion grant program to help get more zero-emission heavy-duty vehicles on the roads. 

2. Power plant progress

In April, the EPA announced a suite of measures to address power plant pollution. For the first time in over a decade, the  agency strengthened the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards to set tougher limits on cancer-causing pollutants from smokestacks. The new standards require power plants to continuously monitor for key pollutants, and close a loophole that allows power plants burning one of the dirtiest types of coal, known as lignite coal, to emit three times more mercury than other plants. 

Elsewhere, the EPA announced standards to slash greenhouse gas pollution from new gas-burning power plants and existing coal-burning plants and set guidelines restricting toxic ash from coal plants into water supplies and reducing the discharge of toxic metals and other pollutants into water bodies. 

The greenhouse gas standards for power plants will prevent up to 1,200 premature deaths and reduce carbon emissions by 1.38 billion tons — that’s like taking 328 million cars off the road. 

3. The business case

The Securities and Exchange Commission is charged with ensuring that investors have the information they need to make prudent investment decisions. 

Flooded waters in the foreground with a city skyline in the background
For the first time, thanks to a new SEC ruling, companies will have to disclose their climate risks. (Adobe)

This spring, the SEC moved to require large publicly traded companies to disclose any climate-related risks to their business strategy, operations, or financial health that a reasonable investor would find relevant. The rule also calls for publicly traded companies to disclose measures they are taking to mitigate or adapt to risks. 

"This is a crucial and overdue step to protect the country’s economy and people’s financial security from the destruction caused by climate change," says Stephanie Jones, EDF senior attorney for climate risk. 

“I’ve been fighting for cleaner air and a safer climate for over 30 years,” says EDF general counsel Vickie Patton. “Progress is sometimes painfully slow. With these vital new EPA standards and the SEC’s improved protections for investors and our financial system, and the historic Inflation Reduction Act investments in climate solutions and environmental justice, you can see that a better future is within reach.”  

Hope for a warming planet

Get the latest Vital Signs stories delivered to your inbox

Want more great environmental stories?

Donate to Environmental Defense Fund and get Solutions, EDF's members-only magazine, delivered to your home.