Leave it to the Environmental Protection Agency to come up with regulatory standards so restrictive that the technology to meet them has yet to be commercially tested.
As expected, the EPA on Friday unveiled its revised proposal to cap greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants. And as expected, coal-fired power plants will fail to meet the limits without some very expensive technology to capture and store carbon emissions.
“There’s the rub. No commercial, coal-fired plant worldwide has yet to use this technology,” notes a story in USA Today.
As the piece points out, there are least two such carbon storage power plants under construction – one in Canada’s Saskatchewan Province, and the other in Mississippi’s Kemper County, scheduled to open in May.
But the coal-fired power industry need only look to Mississippi for a cautionary tale. The $4.7-billion project has been saddled with at least $1 billion in cost overruns, “a stew of legal battles, a revolt by ratepayers and a credit downgrade for the local utility,” according to Bloomberg News story published Thursday.
And, as the story points out, consumers ultimately will foot the bill for the expensive technology in the 582-megawatt plant, the first of its kind to be built on a commercial scale.
“By some measures, it may be one of the most expensive power plants ever built for the watts of energy it will generate,” Bloomberg notes. “The utility got approval to recoup $2.88 billion in costs from ratepayers. In addition, the Department of Energy pledged $270 million, and the company qualified for a federal tax credit of $133 million. The costs of the new lignite mine and carbon dioxide pipelines are additional.”
Coal industry officials earlier this week told Watchdog.org the restrictive limits on CO2 could kill coal, and with it, many of the 800,000 good-paying jobs it supports.
“That is the area that is really going to put this conversation at the forefront,” said Nancy Gravatt, spokeswoman for the National Mining Association, which represents coal and mineral mining companies nationwide. “This puts thousands of middle-class jobs at risk, and it’s akin to an energy tax on consumers. The hardest hit would be those on fixed incomes, like retirees.”
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said Americans have a “moral obligation to the next generation” to protect the environment. She said the proposal is a “necessary step to address a public health challenge,” according to the USA Today story. McCarthy, in a speech Friday morning at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., said the proposed standards create a “path forward” for the coal industry, and that the CO2 limits are both achievable and flexible.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce in a statement basically said the EPA blew it.
“The EPA had the chance to craft a regulation that recognized the value of the ‘all of the above’ energy strategy endorsed by President Obama, and ensured that standards were achievable and based upon commercially and economically viable technology. Instead, they have released yet another major regulation that will hamper economic growth and job creation, and could lead to higher energy costs for American families and businesses,” said Bruce Josten, the chamber’s vice president for Government Affairs.
“It is clear that the EPA is continuing to move forward with a strategy that will write off our huge, secure, affordable coal resources by essentially outlawing the construction of new coal plants.”
Jo Ann Emerson, former Missouri Republican congresswoman and now CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, earlier this week said the administration is “gambling with the economic well-being of future generations and our nation’s economy.”
“As not-for-profit, consumer-owned utilities, electric co-ops are deeply concerned about maintaining affordable, reliable electricity. It’s worth noting that residents of rural communities already spend more per capita on energy than anywhere else,” Emerson said in a statement.
Environmentalists, of course, rejoiced.
“In the words of our Vice-President, this is a BFD,” celebrated the Sierra Club in a blog post.
“If finalized as written, the draft will make it impossible to build a new, conventional, climate-destroying coal plant in the U.S. With climate-related disasters already landing on the doorsteps of millions of Americans, from Western wildfires to Superstorm Sandy, this new protection comes as welcome news.
Jason Hayes, associate director of the American Coal Council, fully expects the proposal to be challenged in court.
“The same thing that happened with the CSAPR Rule… Everyone was going forward before it was remanded by the D.C. court,” Hayes told Watchdog.org Friday.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in 2011 vacated the EPA’s Cross State Air Pollution Rule, often pronounced Casper, and the associated implementation plans and remanded the rule back to the EPA following widespread criticism.
The coal industry and other critics of the EPA’s proposal predict the strict limits will batter a U.S. economy struggling to recover, and stall the strides the industry has made in cutting CO2 output.
“Regulators are setting the bar so high that, even the new plants with the most advanced technologies would not be allowed,” Hal Quinn, CEO and president of the National Mining Association, said in a video released Friday. “Without coal our utility bills will be higher, our industries less competitive, electricity reliability compromised, and of course tens of thousands of jobs lost.”