MAC/20: Mines and Communities

USA proposes carbon pollution standard for future power plants

Published by MAC on 2012-04-02
Source: Statement, Washington Post, Huffington Post

But this doesn 't mean the end of coal

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last week proposed the first Clean Air Act standard for carbon pollution from new power plants.

So far, so good. However, the rules will not cover plants already permitted and being constructed within the coming year.

Moreover, many future coal-fired power plants will rely on the as-yet untried and untested technology of "carbon capture and storage".

The move, while generally welcomed by environmentalists, is far from marking an end to the United States' reliance on coal.

Full coverage and all NGO press releases can be found on this page created by US Climate Action Network:


EPA imposes first greenhouse gas limits on new power plants

By Juliet Eilperin

The Washington Post

26 March 2012

The Environmental Protection Agency will issue the first limits on greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants as early as Tuesday, according to several people briefed on the proposal. The move could end the construction of conventional coal-fired facilities in the United States.

The proposed rule - years in the making and approved by the White House after months of review - will require any new power plant to emit no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt of electricity produced. The average U.S. natural gas plant, which emits 800 to 850 pounds of CO2 per megawatt, meets that standard; coal plants emit an average of 1,768 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt.

Costly controls

Industry officials and environmentalists said in interviews that the rule, which comes on the heels of tough new requirements that the Obama administration imposed on mercury emissions and cross-state pollution from utilities within the past year, dooms any proposal to build a coal-fired plant that does not have costly carbon controls.

"This standard effectively bans new coal plants," said Joseph Stanko, who heads government relations at the law firm Hunton and Williams and represents several utility companies. "So I don't see how that is an ‘all of the above' energy policy."

The rule provides an exception for coal plants that are already permitted and beginning construction within a year. There are about 20 coal plants now pursuing permits; two of them are federally subsidized and would meet the new standard with advanced pollution controls.

An administration official who asked not to be identified because the rule hasn't been announced wrote in an e-mail Monday night: "This standard provides a clear and certain path forward for industry and the important domestic energy sources they rely on" for electricity generation.

President Obama does not mention coal as a key component of the nation's energy supply in speeches about his commitment to exploiting oil and gas reserves and renewable sources.

The proposal does not cover existing plants, although utility companies have announced that they plan to shut down more than 300 boilers, representing more than 42 gigawatts of electricity generation - nearly 13 percent of the nation's coal-fired electricity - rather than upgrade them with pollution-control technology.

Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said the new rule "captures the end of an era" during which coal provided most of the nation's electricity. It currently generates about 40 percent of U.S. electricity.

The power sector accounts for 40 percent of the nation's greenhouse gas emissions, and Brune said it is "the only place where we're making significant progress" in curbing greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change, adding that "at the same time, it's not sufficient."

Cheap natural gas is also contributing to the closure of aging coal-fired plants, as many utilities switch over to gas plants, which produce about half the carbon emissions.

"Gas is contributing to the closure of these plants," Dominion Resources chief executive Thomas F. Farrell II said in an interview last week. Farrell, who also chairs the Edison Electric Institute, the utility trade association, added: "It's not all EPA. It's a combination of low gas prices and EPA working at the same time."

National Mining Association spokesman Luke Popovich said the proposal shows that Obama is following through on his pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through means other than legislation.

Bypassing Congress

"After Congress refused to pass carbon caps, the administration insisted there were other ways to skin the cat, and this is another way - by setting a standard deliberately calculated to drive affordable coal out of the electricity market," Popovich said.

Conrad Schneider, advocacy director for the Clean Air Task Force, said the proposed rule will ensure a cut in the nation's carbon output even if gas prices spike. He cited four planned coal plants that would capture part of their carbon emissions and store them, largely by injecting them into depleted wells to enhance oil recovery. "We need regulatory signals and economic incentives" to make these projects economical, Schneider said.

The proposal will provide some flexibility, allowing super-efficient coal plants an exemption for the first decade of operation before requiring them to reduce their carbon emissions by more than 50 percent.

The EPA rule, called the New Source Performance Standard, will be subject to public comment for at least a month before being finalized, but its backers said they were confident that the White House will usher it into law before Obama's term ends.

"The Obama administration is committed to moving forward with this," said Nathan Willcox, federal global warming program director for the advocacy group Environment America. "They're committed to doing it this, and we're committed to helping them do it."

Staff writer Steven Mufson contributed to this report.

EPA Proposes First Carbon Pollution Standard for Future Power Plants

EPA Press release

27 March 2012

Achievable standard is in line with investments already being made and will inform the building of new plants moving forward

WASHINGTON - Following a 2007 Supreme Court ruling, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today proposed the first Clean Air Act standard for carbon pollution from new power plants. EPA's proposed standard reflects the ongoing trend in the power sector to build cleaner plants that take advantage of American-made technologies, including new, clean-burning, efficient natural gas generation, which is already the technology of choice for new and planned power plants.

At the same time, the rule creates a path forward for new technologies to be deployed at future facilities that will allow companies to burn coal, while emitting less carbon pollution.

The rulemaking proposed today only concerns new generating units that will be built in the future, and does not apply to existing units already operating or units that will start construction over the next 12 months.

"Today we're taking a common-sense step to reduce pollution in our air, protect the planet for our children, and move us into a new era of American energy," said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson.

"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. 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."

Currently, there is no uniform national limit on the amount of carbon pollution new power plants can emit. As a direct result of the Supreme Court's 2007 ruling, EPA in 2009 determined that greenhouse gas pollution threatens Americans' health and welfare by leading to long lasting changes in our climate that can have a range of negative effects on human health and the environment.

The proposed standard, which only applies to power plants built in the future, is flexible and would help minimize carbon pollution through the deployment of the same types of modern technologies and steps that power companies are already taking to build the next generation of power plants. EPA's proposal is in line with these investments and will ensure that this progress toward a cleaner, safer and more modern power sector continues.

The proposed standards can be met by a range of power facilities burning different fossil fuels, including natural gas technologies that are already widespread, as well as coal with technologies to reduce carbon emissions. Even without today's action, the power plants that are currently projected to be built going forward would already comply with the standard. As a result, EPA does not project additional cost for industry to comply with this standard.

Prior to developing this standard, EPA engaged in an extensive and open public process to gather the latest information to aid in developing a carbon pollution standard for new power plants. The agency is seeking additional comment and information, including public hearings, and will take that input fully into account as it completes the rulemaking process. EPA's comment period will be open for 60 days following publication in the Federal Register.

More information:

Cathy Milbourn (News Media Only)

New Carbon Pollution Safeguards Will Protect Our Health, Our Children's Future

By Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Beyond Coal Campaign

Huffington Post

27 March 2012

Today, our nation is taking a historic step for our health and our children's future. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Obama Administration have just announced new carbon pollution safeguards that will protect clean air and the planet, while also spurring innovation and creating jobs in the clean energy economy.

Carbon pollution is linked to life-threatening air pollution like the smog that triggers asthma attacks, and it is the main contributor to climate disruption - making it a serious hazard to Americans' health and future.

EPA today established new proposed safeguards under the Clean Air Act to protect Americans from dangerous carbon pollution produced by new coal plants.

These standards will protect Americans' health, our economy and the future of our children, from carbon's threats. Before today, there were no limits on the amount of carbon being spewed into the air by the nation's largest sources of carbon pollution: dirty coal-fired power plants.

Concerned about these dangers, Americans have repeatedly said no to new coal-fired power plants for the past decade, defeating 166 proposed coal plants across the nation. Now, as the Sierra Club's executive director, Michael Brune, said today in a press statement, "These first-ever carbon pollution standards for new power plants mean that business as usual for the nation's biggest sources of carbon pollution, dirty coal-burning utilities, is over."

As I've said before, a growing body of scientific evidence shows that warming temperatures caused by industrial carbon pollution pose a number of threats to our health and families, including worsening smog pollution, which in turn triggers asthma attacks and other respiratory illnesses.

Doctors, nurses, scientists and other experts say that this increased smog pollution is especially dangerous for children because it permanently damages and reduces the function of children's lungs - a major concern for all my fellow parents out there.

These new air quality protections are a historic step forward in allowing EPA to focus on the industries that create the lion's share of the nation's carbon pollution, because it is time to hold big polluters accountable for the pollutants they spew into our air.

Over 120 health organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Lung Association, American Medical Association, American Nurses Association, American Public Health Association, American Thoracic Society and others are on record stating:

Climate change is a serious public health issue. As temperatures rise, more Americans will be exposed to conditions that can result in illness and death due to respiratory illness, heat- and weather- related stress and disease carried by insects. These health issues are likely to have the greatest impact on our most vulnerable communities, including children, older adults, those with serious health conditions and the most economically disadvantaged.

Clean Air Act protections like these also spur innovation and modernization in our energy sector, creating much-needed jobs, protecting public health and tackling climate disruption. Countries around the world are racing to see who will lead the clean energy future, and we cannot afford to let American fall behind. These new protections will help ensure our nation is leading the way in developing the cutting-edge clean energy technologies of the 21st century.

Every family has the right to breathe clean air, free from the toxic pollution that has taken too many lives and destroyed too many communities. We cannot accept more dirty coal while our friends and family miss days of school and work, ending up in the emergency room instead. Or while American workers remain off the job, when clean energy projects could create thousands of sustainable careers. Or while the fate of our planet hangs in the balance, as global temperatures rise.

By establishing carbon pollution protections, the EPA is moving forward to clean up and modernize the way we power our country - a move that will make for healthier kids, families and workers, while creating much-needed jobs and fighting climate disruption.

EPA releases greenhouse gas rule

By Jean Chemnick

Environment & Energy Daily

27 March 2012

U.S. EPA released greenhouse gas rules for new power plants today to cheers from environmentalists who say they will help the United States meet international goals for reducing heat-trapping emissions and jeers from industry, which says it will stifle economic growth.

The rules require new coal- and natural-gas-fired power plants to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to levels of efficient natural gas plants.

A likely result: New coal-fired power plants will need to be equipped with carbon capture and storage (CCS) capabilities.

"Today we're taking a common-sense step to reduce pollution in our air, protect the planet for our children and move us into a new era of American energy," said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. "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. 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."

In her statement, Jackson emphasized that EPA was required to issue the standards by a 2007 Supreme Court ruling and EPA's subsequent decision that greenhouse gas emissions endanger public safety.

Environmentalists said the rule can be achieved through the use of existing technologies.

"The solutions are at hand to meet our nation's energy needs by using our electricity more wisely through efficiency measures that save families and businesses money and create jobs," said Vickie Patton, general counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund.

Patton, who has worked on litigation to force EPA to draft greenhouse gas rules, said electric utilities can meet the new requirements by using more renewable energy and implementing energy efficiency measures.

"EPA does not mandate technologies to meet the standards, and a broad range of energy sources may comply," she said.

David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a blog post that the rule would have little effect on coal-fired power plant construction because virtually no such plants were in the pipeline.

"A few years ago, it looked like there would be a boom in new coal plant construction," he said. But this has changed largely because natural gas prices are so low that utilities have decided to invest in new gas plants instead.

"The new standard reinforces what most power company executives and investors already understand -- that carbon pollution and climate change are serious concerns, and that if and when new coal plants make a comeback, they will need to be designed with CCS," Doniger said.

But the National Mining Association says the rule will devastate the coal industry and raise electricity prices.

"Requiring coal-based power plants to meet an emissions standard based on natural gas technology is a policy overtly calculated to destroy a significant portion of America's electricity supply," NMA President and CEO Hal Quinn said in a statement.

Natural gas prices will rise, he said, exposing Americans to higher energy prices and stressing the electric grid.

Environmental regs threaten American coal exports

By Lauren Barrett

International Longwall News

30 March 2012

SOUTH and Central America's coal export industry could backslide on the back of harsher environmental regulations being implemented by major importers such as Europe, according to the latest research from GBI Research.

Latin America is heavily reliant on its coal export industry but GBI's latest report warns the sector risks slowing down due to the US and Europe encouraging the shift away from the use of coal-fired power plants.

The South and Central American region produces modest amounts of coal, with output standing at about 109.9 million tons in 2011, accounting for merely 2% of total global coal production.

Of this, the region exported 87Mt in 2011, highlighting the important role coal exports played in generating revenue.

However, strict regulations recently passed by the US Environmental Protection Agency aimed at reducing carbon emissions by 2014 could be a major threat and were anticipated to damage the revenue gained by South and Central America through coal exports.

Meanwhile, the European Union directive on renewable energies in Europe requires each EU member state to increase its share of renewable energies in its total energy mix to 16% by 2020.

In addition, many European countries are conjuring plans to shut down half of their coal-fired power plants.

Closing down plants would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80-95% by 2050, from 1990 levels.

According to GBI Research, these developments will ultimately result in coal production in these regions experiencing slower than expected growth.

However, GBI Research said due to a rapidly expanding industrial sector, regional coal production was expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 5.4% during the next eight years to reach 177.8Mt by 2020.

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