EPA moves to re­verse emis­sions rule for new coal plants

Wheeler calls Obama-era reg­u­la­tion ‘disin­gen­u­ous’

Santa Fe New Mexican - - FRONT PAGE - By Brady Den­nis and Steven Muf­son Wash­ing­ton Post

WASH­ING­TON — The En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency on Thurs­day said it plans to re­verse a rule that would have forced new U.S. coal plants to in­stall tech­nol­ogy to cap­ture their car­bon diox­ide emis­sions, mark­ing the lat­est ef­fort by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to re­peal Obama-era cli­mate reg­u­la­tions.

Act­ing EPA Ad­min­is­tra­tor An­drew Wheeler said at an af­ter­noon news con­fer­ence that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s rule, which ef­fec­tively re­quired any new coal plant to have costly car­bon cap­ture equip­ment to meet cer­tain emis­sions stan­dards, was “disin­gen­u­ous” be­cause the costs of the tech­nol­ogy made new coal plans in­fea­si­ble.

Wheeler said the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pro­posed pol­icy would have “high yet achiev­able stan­dards that are rooted in re­al­ity,” that would re­sult in “lev­el­ing

the play­ing field” for all types of fu­els.

“You will see a de­crease in emis­sions,” Wheeler ar­gued, say­ing that U.S. in­vest­ments would lead to new tech­nolo­gies. “By al­low­ing the ge­nius of the pri­vate sec­tor to work, we can keep Amer­i­can en­ergy re­li­able and abun­dant.”

The lat­est Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion en­vi­ron­men­tal roll­back, if adopted, likely would have lit­tle real-world im­pact, both in­dus­try rep­re­sen­ta­tives and en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists said.

“There are not go­ing to be any new coal plants built in the U.S., with or with­out this,” said David Doniger, a se­nior cli­mate and en­ergy pol­icy di­rec­tor at the Nat­u­ral Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil, not­ing that the low price of nat­u­ral gas in re­cent years has made coal less eco­nom­i­cally vi­able.

Nev­er­the­less, Doniger called the pro­posal a “head-in-the­sand” at­tempt to pan­der to the coal in­dus­try for which Wheeler used to lobby, and to ig­nore ev­er­grow­ing ev­i­dence of the risks of cli­mate change.

“The science is telling us we dras­ti­cally need to cut back on the emis­sions from fos­sil fuel com­bus­tion,” Doniger said. “Any ad­min­is­tra­tion which is look­ing at re­al­ity would not be re­peal­ing this re­quire­ment, it would be look­ing at ways to ex­tend it. … They are go­ing ex­actly back­wards.”

Jeff Holm­stead, a part­ner at the law and en­ergy lob­by­ing firm Bracewell and for­mer head of the EPA’s air and ra­di­a­tion of­fice, agreed that un­do­ing what ef­fec­tively amounted to a ban on new coal plants is “mostly sym­bolic at this point.” More­over, Holm­stead said, there has never been an ap­pli­ca­tion for mod­i­fy­ing or re­con­struct­ing a plant un­der the sec­tion of the Clean Air Act the rule is based upon.

The Na­tional Min­ing As­so­ci­a­tion, how­ever, said that build­ing new more ef­fi­cient coal plants could re­duce the na­tion’s over­all car­bon diox­ide emis­sions. “Im­prov­ing the av­er­age ef­fi­ciency rate of coal-fired power plants from 33 per­cent to 40 per­cent by us­ing the ad­vanced high ef­fi­ciency, low emis­sions tech­nol­ogy that ex­ists could cut U.S. coalplant emis­sions by up to 21 per­cent,” said Ash­ley Burke, a spokes­woman for the trade as­so­ci­a­tion.

Build­ing new coal plants would be ex­pen­sive, how­ever. Burke said com­pa­nies would need sub­si­dies in the form of tax in­cen­tives and loan guar­an­tees. Sen. Todd C. Young, R-Ind., last month pro­posed leg­is­la­tion that would pro­vide loan guar­an­tees and other in­cen­tives for the con­struc­tion of new coal plants.

But ad­vo­cates of re­new­able en­ergy say that the sort of dras­tic re­duc­tions in car­bon diox­ide emis­sions needed to slow global warm­ing would come only with the con­tin­ued clos­ing of coal plants and re­plac­ing them with wind, so­lar or geo­ther­mal fa­cil­i­ties.

“This pro­posal is an­other il­le­gal at­tempt by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to prop up an in­dus­try al­ready buck­ling un­der the pow­er­ful force of the free mar­ket,” Sen. Shel­don White­house, D-R.I., said in a state­ment. White­house, a se­nior mem­ber of the Se­nate En­vi­ron­ment and Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee, said “if the pres­i­dent cared about coal min­ers, he would start work­ing on ways to help the in­dus­try’s work­force ad­just to the new eco­nomic re­al­ity and be­gin in­vest­ing in their fu­ture.”

A panel of U.N. sci­en­tists said in a re­cent re­port that coal and gas plants still op­er­at­ing need to be equipped with car­bon-cap­ture tech­nolo­gies to achieve the re­duc­tion in car­bon emis­sions nec­es­sary for keep­ing the world un­der 1.5 de­grees Cel­sius of warm­ing past prein­dus­trial lev­els.

“This is just one more step this ad­min­is­tra­tion is tak­ing that shows a pretty com­plete dis­re­gard for pub­lic health and the health of the planet, in fa­vor of what ap­pears here to be a pretty elu­sive goal,” said Janet McCabe, who served as act­ing as­sis­tant ad­min­is­tra­tor for the EPA’s Of­fice of Air and Ra­di­a­tion dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and helped shape the ex­ist­ing rule.

McCabe called the emis­sions stan­dards set dur­ing her watch “ap­pro­pri­ate,” and said the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion will likely have to de­fend in court its rea­sons for eas­ing them.

“Send­ing a sig­nal of min­i­mal am­bi­tion, if any, is the wrong di­rec­tion to go when we’ve just been told by the Na­tional Cli­mate Assess­ment that things are pretty dire,” she said, call­ing it the lat­est sig­nal of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s dis­re­gard for cli­mate-re­lated risks. “They’ve been giv­ing noth­ing but this sig­nal with rule af­ter rule af­ter rule.”

The En­ergy In­for­ma­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion said this week that U.S. coal con­sump­tion had fallen to a 40-year low. The agency said that the use of coal by the U.S. power sec­tor will drop by 4 per­cent, or 691 mil­lion short tons, dur­ing 2018.

Power gen­er­a­tors in the United States will close down coal-fired power plants with 14.3 gi­gawatts of ca­pac­ity this year, more than twice the 7.0 gi­gawatts of ca­pac­ity re­tired in 2017, ac­cord­ing to S&P Global Mar­ket In­tel­li­gence. An­other 22.9 gi­gawatts of coal plants are al­ready sched­uled for shut­down by 2024.

MICHAEL S. WIL­LIAMSON/WASH­ING­TON POST

A tug­boat pushes barges up the Mis­sis­sippi River past the coal­fired Sioux Power Plant in West Alton, Mo. The En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency says it plans to re­verse a rule that would have forced new coal plants to in­stall tech­nol­ogy to cap­ture car­bon diox­ide emis­sions.

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