EPA proposes rules that would mandate carbon capture
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Obama administration on Tuesday proposed what it called a "common-sense" requirement that any new coal-fired power plants include equipment to control their greenhouse gas emissions.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials said the proposal, if finalized, would "protect the planet for our children and move us into a new era of American energy"
"Right now there are no limits to the amount of carbon pollution that future power plants will be able to put into our skies - and the health and economic threats of a changing climate continue to grow," said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. "We're putting in place a standard that relies on the use of clean, American made technology to tackle a challenge that we can't leave to our kids and grandkids."
The proposal drew harsh criticism from industry, congressional Republicans and coal-state Democrats, while environmental groups praised EPA's move as a landmark action but also said the agency should have done more.
"This rule, while not perfect, signals that more of our energy future needs till be met by clean, affordable and reliable sources of energy," said Kevin Knobloch, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists. "At the same time, EPA also must focus on the main source of power plant carbon emissions -- existing coal-fired plants, many of them more than 50 years old, which are responsible for nearly 40 percent of U.S. carbon emissions."
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., blasted the EPA proposal as "wrong-headed" and said he would "fight it every step of the way." The National Mining Association said the proposal "is the latest convoy in EPA's regulatory train wreck that is rolling across America, crushing jobs and arresting our economy recovery at every step."
Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen said that while the coal industry "has long protested such standard, refusing to modernize and resisting newer technologies," the EPA proposal "will not only provide public health benefits, but also should spark innovation."
Under the EPA proposal, new power plants would generally have to limit their carbon dioxide emissions to 1,000 pounds per megawatt-hour of electricity generated.
Coal-fired power plants could meet that by using carbon capture and storage, or CCS, technology to cut their carbon dioxide emissions in half, EPA said. By contrast, a natural gas-fired power plant could meet the EPA emissions limits without any additional pollution controls.
The EPA proposal does not apply to existing power plants or to those whose owners being construction within the next 12 months.
EPA said that some states, including Washington, Oregon and California, already limit greenhouse gas emissions. Others, such as Montana and Illinois, currently require CCS for any new coal-fired generation stations.
Jackson and the Obama administration has promised to move forward with greenhouse-gas limits under a legal settlement with environmental groups, and following the failure in Congress of legislative proposals for comprehensive climate change actions.
Most scientists recommend that the nation swiftly cut carbon dioxide emissions, reducing them by about 80 percent below 2000 levels by mid-century to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.
While coal industry supporters and many scientists believe that carbon capture and storage technology, or CCS, can be a part of the solution, there are major questions about the cost, scale and feasibility of equipment that would need to be installed on power plants around the world. And many experts caution that without mandated cuts in greenhouse emissions - either by an EPA rule or act of Congress - industry is unlikely to widely install expensive CCS equipment.
The Obama administration EPA has been moving toward regulating greenhouse gases under a July 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that mandated action if the agency's scientists concluded those emissions were endangering public health and welfare.
EPA said that market data and projections show utilities are switching away from coal-fired power plants anyway, but that its proposal would provide "regulatory certainty" regarding greenhouse limits, a necessity if CCS technology is to be widely deployed.
"Rather than relying solely on changeable energy market conditions to provide low emissions from new power plants in the future, this rule prevents the possible construction of uncontrolled, high-emitting new sources that might continue to emit at high levels for decades, contributing to accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere," EPA said in a report outlining its proposal's potential impacts.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at email@example.com or 304-348-1702.