The coal industry is pressing the White House to hit the reset button on strict new power plant regulations that critics argue would ban the construction of new coal plants.
The National Mining Association, representing the coal industry, met with White House officials last week to discuss an industry proposal to reset the rule’s strict technology standard at a level that is achievable through commercially-available technology, according to public records posted by the White House Office of Management and Budget and industry officials.
The Environmental Protection Agency based the “New Source” rules on power plants using carbon capture and storage technology, which is not yet commercially available, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new coal-fired plants, according to the mining association and coal advocates.
The technology standard means the New Source rules are nearly impossible to meet if a company wants to build a new coal-fired plant. The regulation has Republicans and some Democrats saying it creates a “de facto ban” on new coal plants in the country, even those with much lower emissions.
“Coal confronts policies designed to not allow it to compete in the marketplace,” Hal Quinn, the mining association’s president, told a conference in Pittsburgh June 17. “How else does one explain a proposal to bar the construction of new higher-efficiency, lower-emission coal plants unless they incorporate a technology that has never been demonstrated end-to-end on a commercial power plant?”
The association wants the rule’s technology standard changed to include advanced coal plants that are currently operating, according to the group and documents presented at the meeting.
The association pressed EPA and White House officials at the meeting to change the rules to reflect the emission reductions achieved by a power plant built by a subsidiary of American Electric Power in Arkansas, called the “Turk Plant.”
The Turk Plant was put into operation just ahead of the New Source rules being proposed. It uses so-called “supercritical” coal technology that is state-of-the-art and commercially achievable.
Supercritical technology burns coal at much hotter temperatures than conventional coal plants. That allows plants to operate at much higher efficiency, resulting in lower emissions and much higher energy output. The Turk Plant has been designed in such a way that when carbon capture technology becomes commercial, it can be added to reduce emissions even more.
That would effectively change EPA’s impossible standard for “best available control technology” to something that is technologically feasible, the coal group argues.
The “Turk” power plant would replace EPA’s use of a yet-to-be operational Southern Co. power plant in setting the criteria to comply with the rule. The Southern Co. power plant being built in Kemper County, Miss., uses carbon capture and storage technology that critics say is far from being considered commercial and is too expensive to deploy currently.
Carbon capture and storage technology uses a process by which carbon dioxide is taken out of a power plant’s exhaust stream and forced underground into large aquifers or other rock formations. Carbon dioxide is considered by many scientists to be the cause of manmade global warming.
The mining association argues that the Clean Air Act directs the EPA to base its emission rules on technologies that are commercially available.
The air law “obliges EPA to base standards on the best demonstrated technology, and for coal-based power plants that obviously rules out Kemper, which can’t demonstrate effectiveness because it isn’t operating,” said Luke Popovich, the mining association’s vice president of external affairs in an email. “We suggested the Turk Plant should set the relevant performance standard as it is in operation and thus demonstrates its capability.”
The meeting at the White House was part of OMB’s final review of the New Source rule, which is expected to become law ahead of the additional EPA rules for existing power plants known as the Clean Power Plan.
The Clean Power Plan is considered the centerpiece of the president’s agenda to fight global warming. It is much more sweeping than the New Source rule, but the two are dependent on one another. Under the Clean Air Act, the existing power plant rule cannot go into effect before the rules for new power plants are finalized. OMB is reviewing both currently.
The Senate environment committee on Tuesday will hold a hearing to discuss legislation that would roll back both regulations, while the House Rules Committee is preparing a bill slated to come up for a floor vote on Wednesday to delay the Clean Power Plan.
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- On June 26, 2015