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EPA Folds on Regulating Carbon Emissions

Jackson: “EPA Has No Plans to Regulate Carbon From Existing Coal Plants”

EPA Promotes New Coal Plants – Carbon Capture & Sequestration Technology

Proposal Amounts to Business As Usual

The proposal will have no impact on current carbon emissions and will allow future carbon emissions from the power sector to grow unconstrained by any regulatory limit. This is a prescription for cooking the planet. ~~~ Bill Wolfe

[Update: 3/28/12 – Tom Johnson at NJ Spotlight gets it right: EPA Wants to Limit Greenhouse Gases from New Power Plants – Election year proposal, which exempts existing plants, expected to stir up storm of controversy

Others were more critical. Bill Wolfe, director of the New Jersey chapter of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, called the action irresponsible. “All the science says you have to get dramatic reductions from existing power plants,” he said. “The proposal will have no impact on current carbon emissions and will allow future carbon emissions from the power sector to grow unconstrained by any regulatory limit, Wolfe said. “This is a prescription for cooking the planet.”

[Update: I knew that the press coverage was going to take the EPA spin and ENGO’s would applaud – that’s the pattern that Lisa Jackson knows how to exploit, particularly when the issues are complex and 99% of media and ENGO’s are clueless and haven’t actually read the rule.

But this proposal is not just the standard harmless symbolic gesture and spin.

No one seems to realize that not only does this proposal do NOTHING to reduce current emissions, but it lock the US into another generation of coal power! For 30-40 more years!

I wrote about that below, but was glad to see the energy industry experts confirm that in Tom Johnson’s story. Here ya go:

Christine Tezak, an analyst for Robert W. Baird & Co., said in a research note that the proposal is good news for today’s coal plants, which already face major investments due to other EPA regulations to curb mercury and toxic emissions.

“The Environmental Protection Agency explicitly stated that these new standards would not apply to existing power plants that have increases in carbon dioxide resulting from upgrades related to conventional pollutants,” Tezak wrote.

And that means another 30-40 years of ancient coal power plants!

Update: The Washington Post agrees with my take:

So this latest rule might be mostly symbolic – a way of recognizing that global warming is a problem but not taking dramatic steps to cut emissions further.

[Another:  Duke Energy expects no impact now from EPA carbon rule]

Today EPA touted a new proposed rule that would regulate carbon emissions emissions from new (future) power plants.

But instead of being perceived as a positive move forward to reduce carbon emissions, the proposal highlighted a fatal flaw in EPA’s approach to regulating greenhouse gas emissions. Ironically, perhaps in deference to powerful polluters, EPA itself invited this scrutiny by very clearly stating – right up front – that the proposal applies only to NEW plants and explicitly does not apply to existing plants.

I have been trying here – unsuccessfully until today – to get focus on those flaws in EPA’s “tailoring rule”, an approach which replicates the failed approach under the Clean Air Act, which grandfathered existing dirty mid-west coal power plants. The key assumption – proven incorrect – was that these dirty old coal plants would retire at the end of their design life. That has not happened.

The tailoring rule essentially creates the same regulatory loopholes with respect to existing plants.

EPA’s “New Source Review” enforcement program, which attempts to subject these grandfathered coal plants to current standards when major modifications are made to upgrade the plants and extend their lifetimes, has failed to close these loopholes.

Consistent with this failed pattern, today’s EPA proposed rule would have no impact on carbon emissions from existing power plants. Over 50% of US electric power production is from coal power plants.

On a press conference call earlier today, EPA Administrator Jackson faced several questions from reporters asking why EPA had no plans to reduce carbon emissions from existing coal power plants.

In response, Jackson emphasized  – at least 3 times – that EPA “has no plans to regulate carbon emissions from existing plants”.

This rule comes in the wake of strong political pushback from the energy industry on EPA’s recent mercury and inter-state emissions rules.

So, Obama has caved (again), this time to Big Coal.

The EPA rule proposes a carbon emission standard of 1,000 pounds per megawatt of power generation.

All planned and new natural gas plants and 95% of existing natural gas plants built since 2005 already meet that standard. So the proposal would have no impact on new natural gas plants.

Recognizing this reality, EPA Administrator Jackson stressed that the 1,000 lb/Mw carbon standard is based on existing technology and planned investments in new natural gas power plants, and therefore would have no impact on power plant technology, energy planning, or economic investments.

Echoing the EPA press release statement that the rule proposes an “achievable [carbon] standard in line with investments being made”, Administrator Jackson said

we are meeting the market where it is”.

Jackson then was asked by a NY Times reporter whether EPA models estimated how many tons of carbon would be reduced over the next 10 years, compared with business as usual (BAU).

Remarkably, in what could be one of the most irresponsible statements ever made by an EPA Administrator, a statement that illustrates a wholesale abdication of EPA’s responsibility, Jackson replied:

It is difficult to do that.. We don’t know who is going to build. We are not trying to predict the future.

EPA should be actively shaping the energy future and actively encouraging the shutdown of existing coal power plants and erecting regulatory barriers that amount to a moratorium on construction of new coal plants.

Instead, the proposed rule has no impact on existing plants, no impact on new gas plants, and allows new coal plants with CCS technology.

It therefore will have no impact on current carbon emissions and will allow future carbon emissions from the power sector to grow unconstrained by any regulatory limit. This is a prescription for cooking the planet.

But EPA did not only abdicate – the rule actually creates a new path to encourage more new coal power plants.

In addition to the carbon emission standard, the rule proposes a regulatory path that promotes the controversial carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology.

The rule provided 2 options for new coal power plants:

1) install CCS now, or

2) meet the 1,000 lb/mw standard over a 30 year averaging period by installing CCS at some future date , with 50% carbon capture rate.

The CCS technology is extremely controversial and has not been proven technologically feasible, reliable, and cost effective.

Some have argued that CCS is a bridge to a clean energy future. But even if one buys that argument (which I don’t), it can NOT work under EPA’s approach because EPA has rejected requiring retrofit of CCS on existing coal plants.

Worse, EPA has exempted existing coal plants that upgrade to meet new mercury and interstate rules (and thereby extend their design life another 40 years) from any carbon emissions standards.

This locks the US in to coal power from existing plants for another 30 years.

For new coal plants, CCS is a huge gamble.

It is therefore premature – at best – for EPA to be promoting this technology for new coal power plants.

With scientists calling for steep reductions in CURRENT carbon emissions, this EPA proposal in grossly irresponsible.

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