House panel to look at bill giving a break to waste-coal-fired power plants

On Feb. 3, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Power is due to hold a hearing on two bills, with one of those bills aimed at giving a break to coal-fired power plants using fluidized-bed combustion technologies, and the other giving a break on clean-air mandates to the brick-making industry.

A Feb. 1 staff memo on the hearing said the witnesses will be:

  • Rep. Keith J. Rothfus, U.S. House of Representatives, Pennsylvania;
  • Davis Henry, President and CEO, Henry Brick;
  • Creighton “Butch” McAvoy, President, McAvoy Brick Co.;
  • Vincent Brisini, Director of Environmental Affairs, Olympus Power;
  • Dennis Beck, Chairman of the Western Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation; and
  • John Walke, Senior Attorney and Clean Air Director, Natural Resources Defense Council.

The coal plant bill, H.R. 3797, is called the SENSE Act and would modify the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) and Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) as they apply to coal refuse-to-energy facilities.

In 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized CSAPR. It requires reductions in SO2 and NOx emissions from electric generating units located in the 28 states. In 2012, EPA finalized the MATS rule. This rule requires reductions in emissions of mercury and other air toxics, as well as certain acid gases from power plants.

Said the Feb. 1 committee staff memo: “The applicability of both CSAPR and MATS extends to circulating fluidized bed (cfb) electric generating units designed to utilize coal refuse, the above-ground waste products of coal mining located near many abandoned coal mines. Coal refuse-to-energy facilities create electricity with this waste product while also facilitating remediation of the lands on which they are found. Many operators of these plants have expressed concerns that some of the requirements in CSAPR and MATS may force them to cease operations. On October 22, 2015, Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-PA) introduced H.R. 3797, the ‘Satisfying Energy Needs and Saving the Environment Act’ or the ‘SENSE Act.’ This bill makes targeted modifications to CSPAR and MATS as they apply to coal refuse-to-energy facilities.”

The legislation includes:

  • a section that provides less restrictive SO2 emissions allocations under CSAPR as they apply to coal refuse electric utility steam generating units; and
  • a section that provides an alternative compliance means for HCl and SO2 under MATS.

The bill defines a qualifying “coal refuse electric utility steam generating unit” as an electric utility steam generating unit that:

  • is in operation as of the date of enactment of this Act;
  • uses fluidized bed combustion technology to convert coal refuse into energy; and
  • uses coal refuse as at least 75% of the annual fuel consumed, by heat input, of the unit.

While there are waste-coal-fired fluidized-bed units scattered around the country, the heaviest concentration of them is in Pennsylvania, where they fire waste coal accumulated during decades of mining. State and federal agencies don’t have the money to clean up these sites at any point in the near future, so coal operators are encouraged to tap this waste coal, and then reclaim the sites as part of that process. Mine sites created prior to passage by Congress of a 1977 surface mining law don’t have to be reclaimed by the operator, leaving that burden to state and federal agencies.

The other bill up for Feb. 3 review is called the “Blocking Regulatory Interference from Closing Kilns Act” (BRICK). In September 2015, EPA finalized its NESHAP for Brick and Structural Clay Products Manufacturing and NESHAP for Clay Ceramics Manufacturing. Under this rule, all major sources in the brick-making industry must meet maximum achievable control technology (MACT) standards for mercury, non-mercury hazardous air pollutants (HAP), and health-based standards for acid gas HAP, among other requirements. Regulated entities have three years to comply with the rule. These entities, many of which are small businesses, have expressed serious concerns about their ability to meet the emissions reduction targets in the timelines imposed.

Coal-refuse plant rep says MATS would force clsoure of most such plants

The testimony from Brisini, who serves as Director of Environmental Affairs for Olympus Power, was pre-filed with the subcommittee ahead of the Feb. 3 hearing. He was testifying on behalf of the Anthracite Region Independent Power Producers Association (ARIPPA), the trade association representing the coal refuse energy industry.

He noted that the coal refuse-fired facilities located in Pennsylvania:

  • include 1,500 MW of generation capacity;
  • remove and use as fuel 11 million tons of coal refuse annually;
  • have used over 205 million tons of coal refuse for fuel, to date;
  • have remediated and reclaimed thousands of acres of old mine sites;
  • have eliminated acid mine drainage and improved hundreds of miles of Pennsylvania streams;
  • provide over 1,200 direct jobs with payrolls in excess of $84 million per year; and
  • provide over 4000 indirect jobs in project management, engineering, operations, transportation, logistics and skilled trades

H.R. 3797 seeks to address the sulfur dioxide (SO2) allowance allocation errors contained in the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) and the “erroneous assumptions” in the MATS rulemaking with respect to these facilities, Brisini wrote. “Without the SENSE Act, vastly more local and state taxpayer dollars will be required to reclaim the areas blighted by coal refuse and to address the associated environmental, health and safety problems – money that is not available in our states and communities,” he added. “Federal funding for abandoned mine reclamation is already drying up due to the greatly reduced amount of coal that is being mined, and state and local budgets are simply unable to tackle this daunting challenge.” He referring to the fact that federal reclamation funding for old sites is generated through per-ton fees on current coal production.

The SENSE Act mandates that in Phase 2 of CSAPR or in any future revised emissions budget under CSAPR, the bituminous coal refuse-fired electric generating units only be allocated SO2 allowances at the level provided in Phase 1 of CSAPR. This will ensure that these units aren’t unnecessarily forced into retirement because of this error, Brisini said. To assure that the Phase 2 annual sulfur dioxide emissions budget that has been established by EPA is not compromised, the SENSE Act provides that the Administrator must “re-allocate” sulfur dioxide allowances from the allowance allocations to electric generating units which have been or will be permanently retired or fully converted to burn only natural gas. This will result in a proportional reduction in sulfur dioxide allowance allocations to those units consistent with the number of allowances needed for the re-allocation specified in the SENSE Act.

At the same time, The SENSE Act includes provisions that prevent bituminous coal refuse-fired plant owners receiving these CSAPR emission allowances from gaining an economic windfall. It prohibits qualifying plants from transferring any unused CSAPR allowances to other facilities; and, while allowing unused CSAPR allowances to be “banked” for future compliance periods, it requires the surrender of such allowances if a unit permanently retires or switches to natural gas.

Brisini added about the MATS provisions of the bill: “Although we anticipate that all coal refuse-fired plants can meet the mercury standard under MATS, most of the bituminous coal refuse-facilities cannot meet the rule’s standards for hydrogen chloride (HCI) or its surrogate sulfur dioxide (SO2). The problem meeting the SO2 limits arises from the high variations in sulfur content between anthracite and bituminous coal refuse fuels. The SENSE Act addresses this oversight in the regulation by establishing an additional alternative compliance option for coal refuse facilities burning high sulfur coal refuse tied to the removal and control of SO2. Absent this provision, all but one (which burns low sulfur bituminous coal refuse) of the existing bituminous coal refuse generating plants will be non-compliant and forced to shutter their plants. Along with the closure of these plants would be the loss of the multimedia environmental benefits that the plants provide by combining the generation of energy with the removal of coal piles and restoration of land and water resources.

“To ensure the continuation of the multi-environmental benefits that the coal refuse fired plants provide through the continued removal, remediation and reclamation of coal refuse piles, the SENSE Act legislation mandates that an alternative, performance based standard be provided for these units to demonstrate compliance with MATS. Specifically, under the SENSE Act, these units would be able to demonstrate compliance with the MATS acid gas requirement by demonstrating a 93% removal of potential sulfur dioxide emissions based on as-fired fuel sampling and continuous emissions monitoring systems measurements. This performance level is consistent with the concepts established by EPA’s New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for SO2 emissions for new coal refuse plants by providing a similar standard for existing coal refuse units. This alternative standard must be demonstrated on the same boiler operating day basis as the other acid gas standards in MATS.”

As would be expected, Walke, the NRDC official, said in his Feb. 3 testimony: “H.R. 3797 … is a badly flawed bill that would weaken air pollution standards for waste coal plants and increase dangerous and deadly pollution under two of the most important Clean Air Act (‘CAA’) rules ever adopted for coal-burning power plants. The bill will increase emissions of harmful sulfur dioxide and particulate matter air pollution, as well as hazardous air pollution, in states with waste coal plants. This will impose additional, avoidable health hazards on Americans. The legislation unjustifiably anoints winners and losers among coal-burning power plants, weakening standards for power plants that burn waste coal while saddling power plants that burn other types of coal in the same states with additional burdens. H.R. 3797 even deprives some of these other coal plant operators of valuable economic assets to which they are entitled under current law. I urge members of the Committee to vote against this harmful and baseless legislation.”

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.