Environmental, health, religious leaders back EPA carbon rules

A parade of witnesses from environmental, health and religious groups made it to the microphone at U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) headquarters in Washington, D.C., on May 24 to support EPA’s new carbon pollution standard for future power plants.

The EPA held a full day of May 24 hearings, which were scheduled to run into the night, in Chicago and Washington. The hearings address EPA’s April proposal for the first-ever CO2 regulation of power plants.

The carbon standard would limit new power plants to 1,000 pounds of CO2 per MWH. The rules don’t apply to existing plants and licensed ones that break ground within 12 months.

EPA is accepting written comments until June 25.

The vast majority of witnesses who spoke on the proposal at one of the two hearing rooms in Washington were strongly in favor of regulating CO2 from new power plants. The rules include some accommodation for generating units that are part of U.S. Department of Energy technology demonstration efforts.

DOE and EPA predict that economics will probably force most plants built in the next 10 years to meet the proposed standard anyway.

Speakers signed up to speak for only five minutes apiece, yet the hearing was still two hours old before a witness spoke against the EPA proposal. The first testimony against the proposal came from Ken Haapala of the Science and Environmental Policy Project. Haapala claimed the standard had not been subject to vigorous scientific review and would essentially prevent inexpensive electricity from new coal plants.

Representatives from the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Lung Association, Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Clean Air Task Force, Union of Concerned Scientists, Interfaith Power & Light and various other local, regional and national organizations spoke in support of regulating carbon dioxide from new power plants.

Numerous health group officials testified to statistics showing rising incidents of asthma among children. States including Washington, Oregon and California already regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

American Lung Association Vice President for National Policy and Advocacy Paul Billings wants to see the next generation of power plants to be the “least toxic and most modern” ever. Billings and others said they would prefer an even tougher rule – that would soon include CO2 curbs on existing plants.

Others said that while the 1,000 pounds of CO2/MWH hour is targeted primarily at coal-fired power plants, they would also like to see tighter CO2 limits for natural gas combined-cycle plants, as well. As a rule of thumb, natural gas plants tend to emit less than half the CO2 of a coal plant of equal size.

Darin Schroeder, a legal fellow at the Clean Air Task Force, called the EPA regulations a step in the right direction. He also said government policy should encourage carbon capture and storage (CCS). Schroeder said the U.S. could soon see commercial use of CCS.

Industry official dislikes rule; says CCS not an option yet

“EPA has proposed standards that would require new coal-fired and certain other fossil power plants to use carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology,” said Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council (ERCC), which represents coal-fired generation.

“Yet there is not any coal-fired or other fossil power plant in the world that has been able, even with substantial government subsidies, to use this technology on a commercial scale,” Segal said. “At this time, CCS is neither economically viable nor commercially available.  Moreover, because of the unusual structure of the NSPS[New Source Performance Standard] program, even a proposed rule to require CCS would effectively ban the construction of new coal-fired power plants in the U.S.”

Segal said the EPA standards have “substantial legal shortcomings.” The industry official also said that when combined with a slew of other standards in the EPA pipeline, the CO2 package “will present a near and present danger to the reliability of the electric grid and the nation’s economy.”

EPA’s carbon regulation has much opposition in Congress. Over the years, most major EPA regulatory programs have ended up being challenged in the courts.

Groups such as the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and National Mining Association were also scheduled to testify.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.