EPA's New Power Plant Rule Will Doom King Coal

By Tom Borelli

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed a rule for new power plants to limit greenhouse gases. If approved, the new regulation would effectively ban the construction of new coal-fired power plants, marking a pivotal turning point in President Obama’s war on coal and the culmination of a lie arguably bigger than “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan.”

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy denied any existence of a war on coal in an interview with The New York Times last year, claiming, “We don’t have a war on coal. We’re doing our business, which is to reduce pollution. We’re following the law.” Only a tried-and-true bureaucrat could spin efforts to facilitate the extinction of an entire industry as something else than a war on that industry. It's like the IRS trying to argue that the Tea Party wasn't being targeted. The facts don't lie.

Of course, EPA’s lead bureaucrat is simply following orders. President Obama has explicitly stated his goal to raise the cost of using coal to such a degree that it bankrupts utilities using it as a fuel source.

In 2008, then-Sen. Obama told the San Francisco Chronicle, “If someone wants to build a new coal-fired power plant they can, but it will bankrupt them because they will be charged a huge sum for all the greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.”

The EPA’s public lies about the existence of its war on coal is only the beginning. This new proposed rule tries to hide is true intent by falsely claiming that utilities can use new technology to meet the agency’s emissions limit for carbon dioxide – the targeted greenhouse gas. The agency’s proposed New Source Performance Standard for new coal-fired power plants mandates an emissions standard of 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour. This is far lower than the roughly 1,800 pounds released per hour by coal-based power plants using current technology. The nearly 40-percent reduction in emissions mandated by the proposed regulation would be impossible to meet with today’s technology, and the EPA knows it.

To meet the new requirement, utilities would be forced to capture and bury the carbon dioxide emissions underground through a technology called carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) or carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS). This will prove problematic, given that CCUS technology is new, extremely expensive and unproven to be commercially feasible.

Former Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy Charles McConnell echoed this sentiment in testimony before U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, arguing that “commercial CCUS technology currently is not available to meet EPA’s proposed rule. The cost of current CO2 capture technology is much too high to be commercially viable…it is disingenuous to state that the technology is ‘ready’…”

McConnell’s views about the expense of implementing CCUS technology is a harsh reality for the Kemper County power plant in Mississippi – which currently faces huge cost overruns due to the EPA-mandated technology.

If the higher costs don’t shut down new projects completely, they’ll result in higher utility bills for the American people. Mississippi Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company, now estimates the cost of the Kemper County facility will be over $5 billion - almost twice the amount of its initial projected estimate of $2.8 billion. The Public Service Commission recently approved a 3-percent increase for Mississippi Power customers to help pay for the Kemper County power plant, which follows a 15-percent increase last year.

Further questions about the EPA’s determination that CCUS is ready for commercial use are being raised by the agency’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) – an independent group of scientists who review the science underlying EPA’s decisions. A subgroup of this body recommended the SAB review the scientific underpinning of the proposed power plant rule because “the scientific and technical basis for carbon storage provisions is new science and the rulemaking would benefit from additional review.”

Ultimately, full commercial development of CCUS will likely be blocked by legal action because of safety issues. In 2007, former Energy Secretary Steven Chu warned that escaping carbon dioxide from underground storage “…could actually kill people.”

Proposing a regulation that mandates the use of a technology such as CCUS that has not been shown to be commercially feasible violates the Clean Air Act. According to the law, standards that required new technology must be “adequately demonstrated.” Clearly, the absence of a functioning U.S. power plant falls far short of the agency’s legal standard.

Despite the obvious flaws in EPA’s proposed regulation, the agency is plowing ahead in blind allegiance to Obama’s determination to bankrupt the coal industry by making its product too expensive to use.

Tom Borelli, Ph.D., is a Senior Fellow with FreedomWorks.

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