Obama moves to limit power-plant carbon pollution
The proposal, which would set the first national limits on heat-trapping pollution from future power plants, is intended to help reshape where Americans get electricity, moving from a coal-dependent past into a future fired by cleaner sources of energy. It's also a key step in President Obama's global warming plans, because it would put in motion proposals to end what he called "the limitless dumping of carbon pollution" from all power plants.
Under the law once the Environmental Protection Agency controls carbon at new plants, it will also control carbon at existing plants - a regulation the agency said Friday it would start work on immediately to meet a June 2014 deadline.
Yet the federal government's own analysis of the new power plant proposal concludes that it would have a "negligible" impact on carbon dioxide emissions, pose little to no costs for the industry, and provide no additional benefits to the public by 2022. That's because it essentially locks in what was widely expected to happen anyway. Even without new federal regulations, the agency concluded that no new coal plants would have been built without carbon controls. Instead, the bulk of new power in this country would be supplied by natural gas, which already meets the standard announced Friday.
The industry, and its allies in Congress, quickly dismissed that conclusion.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W. Va.) said the agency was holding the coal industry to "impossible standards."
"If these regulations go into effect," he said, "American jobs will be lost, electricity prices will soar, and economic uncertainty will grow."
Deck Slone, a senior vice president at Arch Coal, said that the technology was not available to clean coal-plant emissions.
"We believe that coal plants with near-zero greenhouse gas emissions will be achievable in time, but such technology is simply not available today," he said. "The administration's proposal goes way too far, way too fast - and threatens to arrest rather than spur technology advances."
EPA administrator Gina McCarthy said in a speech Friday that the proposed regulations would help the industry to adapt, by encouraging energy companies to develop ways to reduce carbon dioxide, the chief greenhouse gas, from burning coal.
Coal on a Slow Burn
The United States will burn 943 million tons of coal this year, only about as much as it did in 1993.
China, which burns 4 billion tons of coal a year - as much as the rest of the world combined - is taking steps to slow the staggering growth of its coal consumption and may be approaching a peak.
Coal has been the dominant fuel for power generation for a century because it is cheap, plentiful, and easy to ship and store.
But it emits a host of pollution-forming gases and soot particles, and double the greenhouse gas emissions of natural gas.
U.S. coal production is on track to fall to a 20-year low of just over 1 billion tons this year.
In the first half of the year, 151 U.S. coal mines that employed 2,658 workers were idled, according to a study conducted by SNL Energy, an energy-market data and analysis firm.
Outfitting coal plants with scrubbers and other pollution-trapping equipment makes coal-fired power much more expensive and makes other technologies, including renewable power, comparably less expensive. - AP