The sleeping giant of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has stirred. In the past month, an avalanche of anti-pollution rules, targeting everything from toxic drinking water to planet-heating gases in the atmosphere, have been issued by the agency. Belatedly, the sizable weight of the US federal government is being thrown at longstanding environmental crises, including the climate emergency.

The EPA’s month of frenzied activity was crowned by the toughest ever limits upon carbon pollution from America’s power sector, with large, existing coal and gas plants told they must slash their emissions by 90% or face being shut down. The measure will, the EPA says, wipe out more than 600m tons of carbon emissions over the next two decades, about double what the entire UK emits each year. But even this wasn’t the biggest pollution reduction announced in recent weeks. In April, new emissions standards for cars and trucks will eliminate an expected 9bn tons of CO2 by the mid-point of the century, while separate rules issued late last year aim to slash hydrofluorocarbons, planet-heating gases used widely in refrigeration and air conditioning, by 4.6bn tons in the same timeframe. Methane, another highly potent greenhouse gas, will be curtailed by 810m tons over the next decade in another EPA edict. In just a few short months the EPA, diminished and demoralized under Donald Trump, has flexed its regulatory muscles to the extent that 15bn tons of greenhouse gases – equivalent to about three times the US’s carbon pollution, or nearly half of the entire world’s annual fossil fuel emissions – are set to be prevented, transforming the power basis of Americans’ cars and homes in the process.

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