NMA warns that Obama climate plan would slam coal-fired power

New rules from the Obama Administration will force power plants to abandon the use of coal, the largest source of the nation’s electricity, resulting in higher utility bills for households and businesses and lost opportunities for responsibly reducing greenhouse gas emissions, said the National Mining Association (NMA).

The proposed New Source Performance Standard, or NSPS, to be issued at any moment by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would require new power plants to meet an emissions standard that cannot be achieved with any control technologies currently commercially available, NMA said in a Sept. 16 statement. NMA represents the nation’s major coal producers. 

“With this regulation the administration is gambling with the nation’s energy economy,” said Hal Quinn, NMA president and CEO. “The rule effectively bans construction of the most efficient power plants the nation will need to provide affordable electricity for a growing economy and will certainly create further economic hardships for millions of families, especially those most vulnerable to higher energy costs.”

Coal is the largest single source of America’s electricity, providing over 40% of U.S. electricity generation. That is down from around 50% several years ago, with a number of existing coal plants already being shut due to EPA regulations like the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards. Coal, along with natural gas, nuclear and renewable energy, provides the U.S. with a strong mix that insures consumers receive a consistent and affordable supply of energy for their homes and businesses, NMA said.  

Quinn also warned that the new rule is an “ill-timed blow” to the U.S economy, still struggling to recover from the 2008 recession. The coal mining industry supports more than 800,000 jobs, with every direct mining job supporting four jobs in other sectors, such as energy, heavy equipment, transportation and manufacturing. Quinn said it is also harmful to the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturing considering that states with the highest percent of affordable, coal-based electricity are the states with the highest percent of manufacturers.

A rule scheduled for next year will also set conditions for existing power plants and speed the closure of substantial coal-based capacity, risking billions of dollars already invested in power plants to comply with earlier EPA regulations, NMA added.

The Clean Air Act requires EPA to base standards on technologies that have been adequately demonstrated, not those that have not reached commercial viability like carbon capture and storage technology, said the NMA. The point of demonstration, Quinn said, “is when commercial performance is assured, not when regulators think it sounds like a good idea.” 

EPA is also setting a dangerous and far-reaching precedent for the broader economy and the agency’s future efforts, NMA noted. “Today’s story is about coal,” Quinn said.  “But tomorrow the story could be about other industries forced to comply with arbitrary standards based on unproven technologies.”

Quinn added: “The more responsible course is to base standards on the best-in-class technology available today. That will allow us to continue our steady emissions reductions and supply Americans with affordable electricity.”

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.