MAC: Mines and Communities

US: Further legislation will curb dependence on coal

Published by MAC on 2012-07-03
Source: PlanetArk,

Black Lung sufferers will also benefit

As a US court upholds proposed new federal rules to limit carbon dioxide admissions, so the state of New York introduces similar legislation which will also curb the use of coal as a source of electricity.

Previous article on MAC: USA proposes carbon pollution standard for future power plants

Meanwhile, the much-praised (and attacked) "Obamacare" provision has passed into law.

This will see sufferers of pneumoconiosis ("black lung disease"), along with their families, now being offered compensation.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the number of cases of the disease, contracted by coal miners, has doubled since 1995, while over 10,000 US miners have died from it during the past decade.

Court upholds EPA's greenhouse gas rules

By Ayesha Rascoe


27 June 2012

A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday upheld the first-ever U.S. proposed rules governing heat-trapping greenhouse gases, clearing a path for sweeping regulations affecting vehicles, coal-burning power plants and other industrial facilities.

Handing a setback to industry and a victory to the Obama administration, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia unanimously ruled the Environmental Protection Agency's finding that carbon dioxide is a public danger and the decision to set limits for emissions from cars and light trucks were "neither arbitrary nor capricious."

The ruling, which addresses four separate lawsuits, upholds the underpinnings of the Obama administration's push to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, and is a rebuke to a major push by heavy industries including electric utilities, coal miners and states like Texas to block the EPA's path.

In the 82-page ruling, the three-judge panel also found that the EPA's interpretation of the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide regulations is "unambiguously correct."

The court also said it lacked jurisdiction to review the timing and scope of greenhouse gas rules that affect stationary sources like new coal-burning power plants and other large industrial sources.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said the court found the agency "followed both the science and the law in taking common-sense, reasonable actions to address the very real threat of climate change by limiting greenhouse gas pollution from the largest sources."

"EPA's massive and complicated regulatory barrage will continue to punish job creators and further undermine our economy," countered Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, a Republican and long-time critic of the EPA's climate change regulations.

Though states like Texas said the EPA's rules were a "subjective conviction" because they did not set hard and fast thresholds for unsafe climate change, "EPA is not required to re-prove the existence of the atom every time it approaches a scientific question," the court wrote.

The ruling clears the way for the EPA to proceed with first-ever rules limiting carbon dioxide emissions from newly built power plants, and to move forward with new vehicle emission standards this summer.

"These rulings clear the way for EPA to keep moving forward under the Clean Air Act to limit carbon pollution from motor vehicles, new power plants, and other big industrial sources," said David Doniger, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.

The court in February heard arguments brought by state and industry challenging the EPA's authority to set carbon dioxide limits.

Industry groups said the EPA's regulations will impose burdensome regulations that will spur job cuts.

"The EPA's decision to move forward with these regulations is one of the most costly, complex and burdensome regulations facing manufacturers," said Jay Timmons, president of the National Association of Manufacturers. "These regulations will harm their ability to hire, invest and grow."

The EPA's rules could affect 6 million stationary sources including 200,000 manufacturing facilities and 37,000 farms, Timmons said in a statement.

The Supreme Court unleashed a fury of regulation and litigation when it ruled in Massachusetts vs. EPA in 2007 that greenhouse gases are an air pollutant that can be regulated under the Clean Air Act.

The EPA in 2009 issued an "endangerment finding" that greenhouse gases "reasonably may be anticipated to endanger public health." The agency followed with the "tailpipe rule" in May 2010 setting limits on greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks.

The agency is also preparing to issue first-ever standards for carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants, which are likely to spur utilities to opt for cleaner natural-gas burning plants instead.

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel, writing by Chris Baltimore; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick, M.D. Golan and Sofina Mirza-Reid)

NY Adopts CO2 Rules That Limit New Coal Power Plants

By Scott DiSavino


29 June 2012

New York environmental regulators on Thursday adopted carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) limits for new and expanded power plants that are slightly stricter than proposed federal limits and make it nearly impossible to build a new coal unit in the state.

There are no coal plants under active development in New York, which currently has about two dozen coal units -- some very old, small and rarely operated -- capable of generating about 2,800 megawatts (MW) of power.

"By preventing new high-carbon sources of energy, this performance standard will serve to further minimize the power sector's contribution to climate change, which poses a substantial threat to public health and the environment," Joseph Martens, Commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), said in a release.

The new regulation will take effect July 12.

The New York regulations establish CO2 emission limits for proposed new major power plants that have a generating capacity of at least 25 MW, and for increases in capacity of at least 25 MW at existing facilities.

One megawatt can power about 1,000 homes.

The New York regulations set a CO2 limit of 925 lbs per megawatt-hour for most new or expanded base load fossil fuel-fired plants, and a limit of 1450 lbs/MWh for simple-cycle combustion turbines.

Energy analysts have said coal plants produce more than 1000 lbs/MWh of CO2, so the rules would prevent the construction of new coal plants unless they had carbon capture and storage systems installed.

Base load plants, which have historically been coal and nuclear powered, usually operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Simple-cycle natural gas turbines generally operate during the summer and winter peaks.

But with natural gas prices touching 10-year lows this spring, many utilities have opted to turn to combined-cycle gas-fired units to generate around-the-clock power instead of coal.

After the DEC proposed its CO2 regulation in January, the U.S. EPA in April proposed a federal CO2 New Source Performance Standard under the federal Clean Air Act.

EPA's proposal contains a primary CO2 emission standard of 1000 lbs/MWh.

New York's biggest coal plants are owned by NRG Energy Inc, which is looking to repower or mothball its plants, and units of AES Corp and Dynegy Inc, which are involved in bankruptcy proceedings.

(Editing by Jim Marshall)

Court Ruling To Shift Greenhouse Gas Fight Back To Congress

By Valerie Volcovici


29 June 2012

An appeals court decision to uphold proposed federal greenhouse gas rules may shift the fight over regulating the heat-trapping emissions back to Congress, where lawmakers may step up efforts to diminish the EPA's power or renew efforts to set a price on carbon, experts said.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on Monday unanimously ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) finding that carbon dioxide is a public danger and the decision to set limits for emissions from cars and light trucks were legal.

The ruling upheld the underpinnings of the Obama administration's push to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, dealing a blow to the heavy industries including electric utilities and states like Texas who have sought to strip the EPA of its authority.

Despite the legal victory by the EPA, experts are expecting opponents to continue their challenge to the greenhouse gas regulations in Congress, where both industry and environmental groups are expected to try to torpedo or protect the controversial rules.

"As for more legal challenges, the various petitioners are still looking at their options, but I think they face an uphill battle," said Jeff Holmstead, head of the environmental strategies group at law firm Bracewell & Giuliani.

"The action will mainly shift to the Hill, and I think there will be an effort to limit or even eliminate EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act," he added, referring to the existing law, which the EPA will expand to tackle carbon.

One opponent of the EPA's greenhouse gas rules said that after the court decision, Congress must pass bills that have been floated in the House and Senate to try to strip the EPA of its authority to use the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon.

"Congress now has a responsibility to reform the Clean Air Act to remove the deference most courts give to EPA's technical judgment and to refine the definition of air pollution in the act," said Kathleen Hartnett White, director of the Armstrong Center for Energy and the Environment at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation.

She said the Senate should follow the lead of the House of Representatives, which passed such a bill last year.

Bracewell's Holmstead said the upcoming presidential election will influence congressional action on the regulation.

Presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney has vowed on the campaign trail to weaken the EPA's use of the federal Clean Air Act for regulating greenhouse gases, while President Barack Obama said in an interview in April that climate change will be a big issue in the 2012 election.

Although an Obama win would not lead to a new attempt to pass comprehensive climate change legislation, it may lead to a discussion on implementing a carbon tax that could replace the EPA's greenhouse gas rules and help beef up weakening federal budgets, Holmstead said.

Others said that with the EPA given the green light to continue issuing its greenhouse gas regulations, industry may seek to push Congress to pass legislation that offers a market-based approach to reducing carbon instead of direct regulation.

"The ruling significantly reduces the regulatory uncertainty facing major emitters so they can begin factoring carbon reductions into their investment decisions," said Paul Bledsoe, senior advisor to the Bipartisan Policy Center.

He said that once the EPA rolls out the suite of new regulations, industry will realize that complying with the rule will be expensive, which may push lobby groups to lobby Congress to adopt market-based approaches to curb carbon.

"Given that certainty, will Congress be keen to engage in much cheaper regulatory approaches?" he said.

In the meantime, the Clean Air Act will continue to fill the void left by Congress' failure to enact a comprehensive energy and climate change bill.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told Reuters last Friday on the sidelines of the Rio+20 U.N. sustainable development conference in Brazil that she was confident the court would uphold the greenhouse gas regulations.

She said President Obama supports the EPA's ongoing work to address greenhouse gas emission in spite of constant challenges by Republican lawmakers.

"I've said all along - that I believe the Clean Air Act is the statute that allows the kind of flexibility that allows us to make reasonable common sense steps toward a lower carbon future, and in the absence of a new law, which is definitely something the president champions, it is a great tool in the toolkit," she said.

Obamacare ruling means little known black lung provision survives

By Michael Allan McCrae

28 June 2012

The dramatic announcement that the president's signature achievement, the Affordable Health Care Act, is constitutional also means that benefits for black lung victims will stay put.

When the bill was passed over two years ago, the late Senator Robert Bryd from West Virginia championed the re-introduction of the protections for sufferers of pneumoconiosis and their families.

A worker, for example, with 15 years at a coal mine site and a disabling lung impairment but a negative chest x-ray is still entitled to the presumption that the disability is due to pneumoconiosis. Widows are automatically entitled to benefits if their husband is a miner and he had been awarded benefits at the time of his death.

Black lung health protections used to exist but were removed in 1981 when the ailment was thought to be waning.resident Obama's health care act was upheld in a narrow 5-4 ruling with Chief John Roberts, who was nominated by President George W. Bush, sided with the left wing of the court.

The four justices who opposed the law-Justice Anthony Kennedy, joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito-wanted the legislation struck down in its entirety.

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