EPA to roll back emis­sions rule for new coal plants

The Mercury News Weekend - - NEWS - By Brady Den­nis and Steven Muf­son

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 Oba­maera 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.

Nev­er­the­less, Doniger called the pro­posal a “headin- the- sand” 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 re- peal­ing 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. coal-plant emis­sions by up to 21 per­cent,” said Ash­ley Burke, a spokes­woman for the trade as­so­ci­a­tion.

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