Democrats claim that carbon capture for coal plants is proven enough

On Jan. 28, just ahead of a committee vote due that day on a bill that would effectively halt the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s CO2 plans for new and existing power plants, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s minority Democrats released a fact sheet addressing Republicans’ “false claims” about H.R. 3826.

That bill, which is also getting support from Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., would block EPA authority under the Clean Air Act to require pollution controls for power plants. The bill was approved by the committee on Jan. 28. It is getting a push from coal-state members of Congress and the Republican majority in the House, with full House passage looking pretty certain at this point. Then it is a matter of whether Senate Democrats, like Manchin, will vote for it. If it makes it that far, then there is also a presidential veto likelihood.

The fact sheet explores six false claims about EPA authority and U.S. efforts to reduce climate change, finding that the proposed EPA authorities are comparable to those of other nations and that the United States needs to do more to combat climate change. Here is a look at some of the GOP claims and the fact sheet responses:

Republican Claim: Under EPA’s proposed standards, the U.S. will be the only country in the world that requires carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) at new coal-fired power plants. In fact, both Canada and the United Kingdom have adopted CO2 emission standards that require new coal-fired power plants in their countries to use CCS. The Canadian and U.K. standards actually require new coal-fired power plants to capture more CO2 than EPA has proposed for new coal-fired power plants in the United States. Canada will even require some of its existing coal-fired power plants to use CCS or retire, while EPA has proposed to require CCS only for new coal-fired power plants, said the fact sheet. For comparison, EPA has proposed emission standards for new coal-fired units of 1,100 pounds CO2 per megawatt hour (lbs CO2/MWh), if met over a 12-month period, or 1,000 to 1,050 lbs CO2/MWh if met over a more flexible 84-month (seven-year) period; Canada has adopted an emission standard of 926 lbs CO2/MWh for new coal-fired units; and the United Kingdom has adopted an emission standard of 992 lbs CO2/MWh for new fossil fuel-fired units.

Republican Claim: That no commercially proven CCS technology exists, so no new coal plants would be built. The technologies needed for CCS – CO2 capture, transportation, and storage underground – have all been used commercially in the United States for decades, said the Democrats. According to the Global CCS Institute, there are currently 12 large-scale CCS projects, which integrate these technologies, operating in the world today, including seven projects in the United States.  None of these 12 projects are on coal-fired plants, the fact sheet conceded. But it said there have been pilot-scale CCS demonstrations at coal plants in the U.S. and abroad, and there are two power plants, Kemper County in Mississippi and Boundary Dam in Canada, that will come on-line this year with CCS systems. “If a utility wants to build a new coal-fired power plant with CCS today, there are companies that would be happy to sell them the technology,” the fact sheet claimed.

Republican Claim: That coal-fired plants in the U.S. are not a significant producer of worldwide greenhouse gases. “House Republicans are wrong that CO2 emissions from U.S. coal-fired power plants are an insignificant part of the climate problem,” the fact sheet said. “The United States is the world’s second largest carbon polluter. We are responsible for nearly 20% of the world’s carbon pollution. Coal-fired power plants alone account for roughly a third of our country’s carbon pollution. Together, the most-polluting 50 U.S. power plants emit more than 2% of the world’s energy-related CO2 pollution. In fact, these plants collectively emit more pollution than virtually every other nation in the world.”

Bill has already cleared a House subcommittee

The committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Power on Jan 14 advanced H.R. 3826, the Electricity Security and Affordability Act. The bill was authored by two coal-state lawmakers: subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Sen. Manchin. “The bipartisan, bicameral legislation provides a reasonable alternative to EPA’s proposed greenhouse gas standards for new power plants and the agency’s planned regulations for existing power plants,” said a Jan. 14 statement from the energy committee’s GOP majority. “The subcommittee approved the measure by a vote of 18 to 11 and it now moves to the full committee for consideration.”

EPA’s proposed greenhouse gas standards for new power plants would require the use of CCS technologies that are not yet commercially available, effectively banning the construction of even the most state-of-the-art coal-fired plants, the GOP statement said. EPA claimed in a new version of its proposed rule released on Jan. 8 that CCS technologies are commercially proven, a contention that is hotly contested by the power industry.

Said Whitfield on that point in his Jan. 14 opening statement: “Under EPA’s proposal, industry would not even be able to build the most state of the art clean coal fired power plant, because the technology required under the proposed regulation is not commercially feasible. EPA testified before our subcommittee that the proposal is based on four demonstration projects – all of which rely heavily on government subsidies and it remains unclear when or if all of these projects will go forward. In fact, there is not one full-scale commercial power plant with CCS in operation anywhere in the world today.”  

H.R. 3826 would direct EPA to adopt workable standards that require technologies that have been adequately demonstrated and are commercially feasible. It would also instruct Congress to set the effective date for EPA’s expected regulations for existing plants, which, considering the logjam in Congress on greenhouse gas regulation, would put EPA’s rulemaking efforts on ice for potentially years to come.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., in his opening statement at the Jan. 14 session, said this is just another Republican effort to go against proven science when it comes to making policy, including energy policy. “Denying or ignoring the science is not a responsible way to govern,” he said. “Passing the bill before us today is not a responsible way to act. It will only jeopardize the future for our children and grandchildren. Don’t be so myopic that you look only at the coal industry in your district and play to the cheap seats and tell them how you’re saving them from the war on coal. There is no war on coal. But there is a problem, and we’ve got to solve the problem, not deny it.”

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.