Republicans slam EPA proposal on CO2 standards for new power plants

Opposition to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issuance March 27 of a controversial proposed rule for greenhouse gas emissions was voiced swiftly by industry and by the top Republicans on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Those Republican committee leaders said in a statement that the proposal would add to the “tangle of regulatory red tape” already imposed by other new rules affecting electric utilities, effectively forming a “backdoor energy tax” on families and businesses. 

“Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have warned administration officials about the consequences of this rule,” said the House Republicans. “Among the members’ concerns is the fact that new coal-fired utilities would be required to adopt technologies that are not commercially viable – essentially ending the construction of new coal-fired utilities. Earlier this year, a bipartisan group of 221 House members wrote to Jeffrey Zeints, Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget, requesting the regulation be withdrawn because of the detrimental effect it will have on electricity rates, jobs, and the economy.”

“This rule is part of the Obama administration’s aggressive plan to change America’s energy portfolio and eliminate coal as a source of affordable, reliable electricity generation,” said Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich. “EPA continues to overstep its authority and ram through a series of overreaching regulations in its attack on America’s power sector. This rule effectively bans new coal plants and sets the stage for higher electricity prices in many regions of the country, which is precisely what Congress and the American public rejected with the failure of cap-and-trade legislation. President Obama likes to say he is for ‘all of the above’ American energy, but his policies prove otherwise.”

“I am gravely concerned about the proposed regulation’s impact on jobs and the economy,” said Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., Chairman of the Energy and Power Subcommittee. “President Obama and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson are circumventing the will of Congress and the American people by moving forward with a standard today that threatens our most abundant, reliable, and affordable domestic electricity source – coal. President Obama is also putting our economy at risk at a time when it is most vulnerable. Congress has said no to regulating greenhouse gases because of the impact it will have on the economy, and what we are seeing is that EPA’s regulations already are having a devastating impact on jobs and supply. We’re seeing coal-fired electricity plants close and will likely see electricity rates skyrocket because of other EPA regulations and the greenhouse gas standards will only make matters worse.”

The Republican committee statement noted that in recent months, EPA has also issued two extremely costly rules –the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule and the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards – that will force early retirement of much of the existing coal fleet. Since 2010, operators of coal plants in various states have announced over 36 GW of generation capacity that will be taken offline due to EPA’s rules, the committee statement said. More EPA rules and more EPA-driven plant closures are anticipated.

In April 2011, the House passed a bipartisan measure, H.R. 910, the Energy Tax Prevention Act, to prevent EPA from advancing its climate change agenda through regulations that would increase utility rates, send manufacturing jobs overseas, and hamstring economic recovery. In September 2011 the House approved H.R. 2401, the Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation Act, or TRAIN Act, to require that the administration examine the cumulative impacts of these and other costly rules on jobs, energy prices and the economy. Both bills passed the House with bipartisan support and await action in the Senate, the committee statement said.

EPA assures that new standards only apply to future plants

EPA said in a March 27 announcement that its proposed standard reflects the ongoing trend in the power sector to build cleaner plants that take advantage of American-made technologies, including new, clean-burning, efficient natural gas generation. The rule also creates a path forward for new technologies to be deployed at future facilities that will allow companies to burn coal while emitting less CO2. The rulemaking proposed March 27 only concerns new generating units that will be built in the future, and does not apply to existing units already operating or units that will start construction over the next 12 months.

“Today we’re taking a common-sense step to reduce pollution in our air, protect the planet for our children, and move us into a new era of American energy,” said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. “Right now there are no limits to the amount of carbon pollution that future power plants will be able to put into our skies – and the health and economic threats of a changing climate continue to grow. We’re putting in place a standard that relies on the use of clean, American made technology to tackle a challenge that we can’t leave to our kids and grandkids.”

Currently, there is no uniform national limit on the amount of carbon pollution new power plants can emit. As a direct result of a 2007 Supreme Court ruling, EPA in 2009 determined that greenhouse gas pollution threatens Americans’ health and welfare by leading to long lasting changes in the climate that can have a range of negative effects on human health and the environment.

The proposed standards can be met by a range of power facilities burning different fossil fuels, including natural gas technologies that are already widespread, as well as coal with technologies to reduce CO2 emissions. Even without today’s action, the power plants that are currently projected to be built going forward would already comply with the standard. As a result, EPA said it does not project additional cost for industry to comply with this standard.

Prior to developing this standard, EPA said it ran an extensive and open public process to gather the latest information to aid in developing a carbon pollution standard for new power plants. The agency is seeking additional comment and information, including public hearings, and will take that input into account as it completes the rulemaking process. EPA’s comment period will be open for 60 days following publication in the Federal Register.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.