The Environmental Protection Agency is trying to “de-carbonize” the country’s energy system by 2030 with a suite of new rules for power plants, hurting the long-term viability of both coal and natural gas plants.
The EPA on Monday finalized the rules, which include the Clean Power Plan, the centerpiece of President Obama’s climate change agenda. The rules place states on the hook to reduce emissions by almost one-third by 2030, beginning in 2022.
Even with changes to the final rules that are supposed to make it less strict for coal and gas, the industry says EPA’s changes are only “cosmetic.”
The real goal is “decarbonization,” which means transitioning the grid to zero-emitting resources such as wind and solar, according to the National Mining Association, which represents the coal industry.
The change to the “new coal standard is cosmetic and is likely of no practical value whatsoever” for building new coal plants, said Luke Popovich, vice president for external affairs at the National Mining Association. “Anyway, it is inconsistent with what EPA now candidly admits is the real goal — decarbonization.”
President Obama’s senior climate change adviser, Brian Deese, coined the term “decarbonization” in explaining changes to the rules to reporters last week. “That will help drive deeper decarbonization not just in 2030, but in subsequent years as well,” Deese said. “This rule gives us a strong foundation to keep pushing forward against our international commitments and is stronger when you look out at 2030 and beyond.”
Popovich said the EPA’s intent is not to help cleaner coal plants to comply or be built, but to switch the country to greater levels of renewable energy, with less and less dependence on fossil fuels, especially after 2030.
“They’ve introduced a new concept in the final [rule] that wasn’t in the proposal — ‘decarbonization,'” Popovich said in an email. “EPA now says this is the goal beyond 2030 and uses this goal to explain why they not only crush coal but in the final rule reduce natural gas projections and incentivize renewables in the early years to supplant natural gas.”
The Clean Power Plan, when proposed in 2014, had counted on natural gas-fired power plants more in meeting its targets. But the final rule reduces the focus on gas to ensure wind and solar are available to supplant fossil fuels.
“The proposal’s rush to gas was, they now say, inconsistent with the long-term goal of ‘de-carbonization’ of the power grid,” says Popovich. “In our view, de-carbonization is the path to ‘de-industrialization.'”
The natural gas industry also responded to the news of the changes, saying it appears “the White House is ignoring market realities and discounting the ability of natural gas to achieve the objective of emissions reductions more quickly and reliably while powering growth and helping consumers,” according to the head of America’s Natural Gas Alliance, Marty Durbin.
“With the reported shift in the plan, we believe the White House is perpetuating the false choice between renewables and natural gas. We don’t have to slow the trend toward gas in order to effectively and economically use renewables,” Durbin said.
The final Clean Power Plan offers compliance credits and incentives for states that invest in renewables early, with new emphasis on building up renewable energy capacity.
Proponents of the rule had raised concerns that states would seek to develop natural gas to meet the tight interim targets under the proposed rules. It now appears the EPA wants to counter that scenario through renewable compliance credits and other incentives.
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- On August 9, 2015