On September 20, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is scheduled to release its new regulations for constructing coal (and natural gas-fired) power plants. The buzz is that these regulations are more lenient than those EPA proposed earlier. Regardless, either version will deny U.S. citizens the right to have new generating facilities built using coal, the most abundant fossil fuel resource in the United States. The lower 48 states have several hundred years of coal available to supply our needs at current usage rates without tapping into even larger coal resources in Alaska.
This move makes it clear that the Obama Administration wants to continue its war on affordable energy and particularly coal—an energy source that has served us for well over a century, even as coal is set to become the world’s largest fuel source by 2017. Furthermore, EPA only claims that this rule “addresses climate change.” “Addressing” climate change is the same thing as “addressing” the wind. It might make you feel good, but it doesn’t affect the wind in any meaningful way. According to EPA’s climate models, this regulation will, at best, have a negligible impact on climate change.
The New Rule
It is expected that the new EPA proposed rule will require the carbon limit for large natural gas plants to be set at 1,000 pounds per megawatt hour (relaxing it slightly for smaller gas plants) and the carbon limit for coal plants will be set at 1,300 or 1,400 pounds per megawatt hour, more lenient than the 1,000 pounds per megawatt hour originally proposed. Because U.S. coal plants emit an average of 1,768 pounds per megawatt hour, utilities will need to capture some of the carbon dioxide they emit in order to comply. The problem is that to capture the excess carbon above the limit, utilities will need carbon capture and sequestration technology, which is still not commercially available. The EPA is thus proposing a classic “Catch 22″: although the EPA has relaxed the proposed rule from what the agency initially developed, the cost would still be too exorbitant for any new coal-fired plant to be built in the United States. Note that because U.S. natural gas plants emit an average of 800 to 850 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour, they will not be affected by this proposed rule.(i)
EPA’s previous version of the proposed rule allowed more than a dozen coal-fired plants to be grandfathered; the new proposal limits the exemptions to two possible new plants–one in Georgia and the other in Kansas. Both plants will have to begin construction within the year, and will have to obtain a special determination from the agency within 120 days of the rule’s proposal.[ii]