NRDC seeks EPA greenhouse limits on existing power plants

One month after President Obama won re-election, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is calling upon the Environmental Protection Agency to pursue greenhouse gas (GHG) emission regulation for existing fossil fuel power plants.

EPA already has rules pending that would, for the first time, regulate carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases from new power plants. Various interests have bemoaned those rules as so stringent as to all but eliminate licensing of new coal-fired power plants.

The NRDC is now urging EPA to use its Clean Air Act Authority to set standards for existing power plants.

NRDC said Dec. 4 that its proposal would cut carbon pollution from the nation’s existing power plants 26% by 2020 and 34% by 2025.

The proposal would enable states and power plant owners to use a wide range of existing technologies, including energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, to meet carbon pollution standards in the most cost-effective way. States would also have broad flexibility to design their own plans to meet the standards, NRDC said in a news release.

NRDC said its proposal can dramatically reduce emissions from power plants that are responsible for 40% of the nation’s carbon pollution.

NMA has serious doubts about the plan

We have not had sufficient time to thoroughly review the proposal – the assumptions and modeling done by NRDC are incredibly wide in scope and somewhat novel,” National Mining Association spokesperson Luke Popovich said.

“The stringency of the emissions controls and the short time line for compliance with EPA’s ‘on the books’ regulations have resulted in the announced retirement of more than 29 GW of coal based generation to date. Moving forward with carbon dioxide standards for the existing coal fleet at this time would, by almost any measure, increase that number,” the NMA spokesperson added.

“While the NRDC report purports to provide flexibility for how plants and states could meet the group’s proposed emissions reductions, NRDC seems to rely on assumptions about energy efficiency measures and focuses on the Northeast states as the models for how their plan would be cost effective-a region (along with California, the other reference point) where electricity rates are already incredibly high,” Popovich said.

“The President put climate change on the national agenda, and NRDC’s plan shows how the United States can make big reductions in carbon pollution that drive climate change, with a flexible approach that promotes clean energy investments and delivers big benefits for Americans’ health,” said NRDC Executive Director Peter Lehner,. “This year’s ravaging heat waves, drought, wildfires and Superstorm Sandy underscore why the nation must tackle head-on the biggest source of dangerous carbon pollution now,” the NRDC official said.

The NRDC said the GHG rules could be carried out through state-federal cooperation.

For example, a state that now gets 90% of its fossil-fueled electricity from coal and 10% from gas would be required to reduce its 2020 emissions rate to 1450 lbs/MWh.

The emissions standard for each state would be an overall emission rate average of all fossil fuel plants in the state. An individual plant could emit at a higher or lower rate.

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.