Texas is not Kentucky. Or West Virginia. That’s clear to everyone.
But there’s conflict over what these distinctions mean when it comes to President Barack Obama’s plan to sharply reduce climate-altering pollution from coal-fired power plants, the nation’s leading source of carbon dioxide emissions.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, however, says it’s requiring Texas to do more than coal-dependent states because of its vast potential to develop less-carbon-intensive energy sources. In assigning the reductions, the agency says it took into account what each state could achieve without causing economic harm.
Texas isn’t so sure. The fairness argument is at the forefront of its 212-page criticism of the proposed regulation, which state leaders call a job-killer that would raise wholesale electricity rates as much as 20 percent and force some coal plants to retire prematurely.
In comments recently filed with the EPA, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality wrote: “The disparate state goals proposed by EPA would result in inequitable treatment of the states.” Texas has taken steps to diversify its energy mix, but the carbon-fighting plan “actually penalizes the state for making these efforts.”
The comments were among more than 1.5 million filed this month in response to the proposed rule, which the EPA is expected to finalize by June 2015.
Texas burns more coal than any other state in part because of its large and growing population and industrial base. But the carbon-intensive fuel accounted for less than 40 percent of the state’s power use last year.
The federal proposal calls for Texas to reduce its carbon emissions 39 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. In contrast, West Virginia and Kentucky, which generate nearly all of their power from coal, would be required to make cuts of 20 and 18 percent, respectively.
Some Texas officials have questioned whether the proposed reduction is even possible without a radical shift in generation toward natural gas, wind and solar and a stronger push to use energy more efficiently. Texas’ power grid operator has said about half of the state’s coal-burning capacity might be retired under the federal plan.
But some experts say Texas wrongly views the rules as an existential threat to its energy-heavy economy. Instead, they argue, the state could achieve the federal targets without a lot of new initiatives.
The disconnect persists because “this regulation hits the status quo harder than any other, and we have powerful economic interests in this state wanting to maintain the status quo, ” said Thomas McGarity, a University of Texas at Austin law professor who specializes in government regulation.
The combination has caused some operators to decide whether to retire their coal plants or retrofit them with expensive new pollution controls.
In its formal comments on the proposal, the Sierra Club said Texas could achieve the EPA’s proposed target by retiring 10 coal-burning power plants that are more than 40 years old and replacing them with natural gas-fired plants.
“We talk about how there is a war on coal, and that’s true, ” said Victor Flatt, a professor of environmental law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “But there isn’t a war on fossil fuels. This rule is favorable to natural gas. In the end, I don’t think it will have the huge economic impact that people say it will.”
But there are concerns that the EPA will require states to make emissions cuts too quickly, leading to unintended consequences.
By requiring states to achieve most of their carbon reductions by 2020, the EPA could be encouraging a rush on natural gas to preserve electric reliability at the expense of developing no-carbon, renewable sources, such as wind and solar, NRG told the agency.
NRG, co-based in Houston, suggested the EPA allow states to determine their own path to achieving the assigned 2030 targets.
“This will allow states to achieve moderate emission reductions in the early years with relatively straightforward policy approaches, while providing them with more time to develop additional policies needed to spur greater emission reductions in the later years of the next decade, ” the company wrote in a 31-page response to the proposal.
Michael Nasi, a lawyer representing operators of coal plants in Texas, told the EPA the proposal fails to realize that the state needed four decades to build its current capacity for renewable energy, and it had the help of federal subsidies.
The EPA plan assumes – “without consideration of economics or grid stability” – that Texas will increase its use of wind and solar by 153 percent over the next eight to 14 years. That’s a burden no other state has, Nasi said.
But McGarity, the UT professor, said Texas shouldn’t be scared of the target because the state has abundant energy sources other than coal.
“We’re not well-endowed in coal, ” he said.
What’s more, he said, technology advances when “the pressure is there” from regulation.
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- On December 29, 2014