MAC: Mines and Communities

US coal: Restrictions at home and abroad

Published by MAC on 2013-11-02
Source: Reuters,

U.S. lays out strict limits on coal funding abroad

Anna Yukhananov


30 October 2013

The United States said Tuesday it plans to use its leverage within global development banks to limit financing for coal-fired power plants abroad, part of Washington's international strategy to combat climate change.

The U.S. Treasury said it would only support funding for coal plants in the world's poorest countries if they have no other efficient or economical alternative for their energy needs.

For richer countries, it would only support coal plants that deploy carbon capture and sequestration, an advanced technology for reducing emissions that is not yet commercially viable. That essentially means the United States would limit coal funding to only the world's poorest for now.

The rules affect U.S. support for new coal-fired power plants funded by multilateral development banks like the World Bank. The United States is the world's second-biggest greenhouse-gas emitting nation after China and has sought to cut emissions of gas blamed for warming the planet.

"As developing economies embark on a journey towards a clean energy future, today's announcement marks an important step in helping them reach this goal," U.S. Treasury Undersecretary for international affairs Lael Brainard said in a statement.

President Barack Obama in June said the United States would stop investing in most coal projects overseas, part of a broad package of climate measures, and called on multilateral banks to do the same.

Shortly after, the World Bank also agreed to a new energy strategy that will limit financing of coal-fired power plants to "rare circumstances," for countries that have no feasible alternatives to coal. It did not go as far as the U.S. guidelines in specifying that the funding would only go to the world's poorest countries.

The wider impact of a new U.S. energy strategy would likely not be seen immediately, since bilateral donors and the private sector will still continue to finance coal. But some analysts hope strict limits on public funding could send a signal that coal is a risky investment and prompt countries to turn to alternative energy sources.

The real test of the strategy may come next year, when the World Bank should decide whether to provide loan guarantees for a Kosovo power plant fired by coal.

It was not immediately clear if Kosovo would be considered one of the world's poorest countries according to the new U.S. guidelines. The U.S. Treasury declined to discuss the project specifically, as it had not yet been presented to the World Bank's board.

The United States is the World Bank's largest and most powerful member but likely would still have to build coalitions with other countries if it wanted to block funding for a specific coal project.

The World Bank last approved funding for a coal-fired power plant in 2010 in South Africa, despite lack of support from the United States, Netherlands and Britain due to environmental concerns.

Multilateral institutions like the World Bank have come under criticism for urging global action to cut emissions of carbon dioxide while simultaneously funding coal-fired power plants. But others also fret that a lack of public funding for coal could impair energy access in poor countries that are struggling to grow.

(Reporting by Anna Yukhananov; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Federal judge pushes EPA to finalize coal ash regulation

Ana Komnenic

29 October 2013

A Federal Judge has told the Environmental Protection Agency to get moving on coal ash regulation.

In 2010 the EPA proposed first-ever federal regulation on coal ash but hasn't done much since, leaving the law in limbo. On Tuesday Judge Reggie Walton issued a memorandum, giving the Agency 60 days to review its proposed rules, the court document shows.

The memorandum comes in response to a lawsuit brought against the EPA by environmental groups in 2012 - Walton ruled in against the EPA last month. The groups argued that the EPA had failed to revise regulation in a timely manner.

When the EPA published its proposed rules in 2010 it offered two options, comments on which it has been reviewing since. The Agency asked for six more months to review, but the judge said two should suffice.

Coal ash, waste generated by coal and other fossil fuel combustion, has come under fire since a Tennessee Valley Authority steam power plant ruptured in 2008, sending coal combustion waste onto more than 300 acres of land.

EPA says its new rule won't have 'any notable' effect on CO2 emissions

Ana Komnenic

25 September 2013

Last week the EPA struck fear into the hearts of the coal mining community after announcing its draft set of regulations on carbon emissions.

And what does the EPA hope to achieve?

According to its own report, not much.

"The EPA projects that this proposed rule will result in negligible CO2 emission changes, quantified benefits, and costs by 2022," the report released last week reads.

The proposed rule sets strict limits on the amount of carbon pollution generated by new power plants - existing plants won't be touched, for now.

The legislation would effectively put a moratorium on new coal plants.

But the report also states that it would not have impact on CO2 emissions.

This is because the EPA believes that "even in the absence of this rule ... existing and anticipated economic conditions means that few, if any, solid fossil-fuel-fired EGUs [electric generating units] will be built in the foreseeable future."

"New generation technologies" - especially natural gas - will fuel electricity generators, the Agency noted, adding that it does "not project any new coal-fired EGUs without CSS [carbon capture and storage technology] to be built in the absence of this proposal."

In other words, the EPA argues that even without its regulations, the industry is moving toward cleaner technology.

When addressing the issue of costs associated with the proposed rule, the EPA says that owners of newly built electric generating units "will likely choose technologies that meet these standards" anyway, so its regulations won't - theoretically - cost them anything.

Critics say that by claiming that there are no clear benefits the Agency is trying to mask "the high costs of compliance," the Daily Caller writes.

Reactions to last week's announcement were varied, with opponents claiming that the current administration has "no love for coal."

Others say that burning coal to produce electricity is archaic and "dirty."

The EPA's proposals have hefty legislative hurdles to overcome before becoming law.

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