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Obama takes on coal with first-ever carbon limits

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The Obama administration is pressing ahead with tough requirements for new coal-fired power plants, moving to impose for the first time strict limits on the pollution blamed for climate change.

The proposal is intended to help reshape where Americans get electricity, away from a coal-dependent past into a future fired by cleaner sources of energy. It's also a key step in President Barack Obama's climate-change plans, because it would help end what he called "the limitless dumping of carbon pollution" from power plants.

New requirements could have a major impact in Indiana, which gets more than 90 percent of its electricity from coal plants and ranks sixth in the nation in coal production. The state estimates that more than 2,500 people work in the coal mining industry in Indiana.

Although the proposed rule won't immediately affect plants already operating, it eventually would force the government to limit emissions from the existing power plant fleet, which accounts for a third of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Obama has given the Environmental Protection Agency until next summer to propose those regulations.

“This administration needs to practice what it preaches when it comes to job growth," said Indiana Sen. Dan Coats, a Republican, in a prepared statement. "The president cannot allow the out-of-control EPA to eliminate jobs and hit Hoosier families with higher electric bills while telling Americans that he is serious about growing the economy.”

The news also drew fire from business groups

“Just as Indiana manufacturing has begun a much-anticipated upswing, the EPA’s proposed carbon emissions regulations for new power plants will create a man-made energy crisis that may very well shut down our Hoosier manufacturing revival and create a domino-effect of hardship for all Hoosiers," Indiana Manufacturers Association CEO Patrick Kiely said in a prepared statement.

The EPA provided The Associated Press with details of the proposal prior to the official announcement, which was expected Friday morning. The public will have a chance to comment on the rule before it becomes final.

Despite some tweaks, the rule packs the same punch as one announced last year, which was widely criticized by industry and Republicans as effectively banning any new coal projects in the U.S.

That's because to meet the standard, new coal-fired power plants would need to install expensive technology to capture carbon dioxide and bury it underground. No coal-fired power plant has done that yet, in large part because of the cost. And those plants that the EPA points to as potential models, such as a coal plant being built in Kemper County, Miss., by Southern Co., have received hundreds of millions of dollars in federal grants and tax credits.

Coal, which is already struggling to compete with cheap natural gas, accounts for 40 percent of U.S. electricity, a share that was already shrinking. And natural gas would need no additional pollution controls to comply.

"For power producers and coal mining companies that reject these standards, they have no reason to complain, and every excuse to innovate," said Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., the author of a 2009 bill to limit global warming. The legislation, backed by the White House, passed the House, but died in the Senate.

A powerful Republican opponent of the EPA plan, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said in an emailed statement that "the president is leading a war on coal."

The regulations have been in the works since 2011 and stem from a 1970 law passed by Congress to control air pollution. In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that that law, the Clean Air Act, could be applied to heat-trapping pollution. The EPA already has issued rules aimed at curbing global warming pollution from automobiles and the largest industrial sources.

An EPA official told the AP that the rule doesn't specify any particular technology. But the official acknowledged that carbon capture was the only current technology available for a company to meet the threshold of 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per megawatt hour of electricity. To put that in perspective, a modern coal plant without carbon controls would release about 1,800 pounds per megawatt hour.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the announcement of the rule had not been made.

The administration went back to the drawing board after receiving more than 2 million comments on its first proposal, which was legally vulnerable because it required coal and natural gas to meet the same limit. Coal and natural gas now have separate standards, but the latest proposal will almost certainly to be litigated once it becomes final, which the law requires the EPA to do in a year.

The legal argument likely will be based around whether carbon capture and storage is a demonstrated technology.

"EPA has set a dangerous and far-reaching precedent for the broader economy by failing to base environmental standards on reliable technology," said Hall Quinn, president and CEO of the National Mining Association. The EPA regulation "effectively bans coal from America's power portfolio," he said.

The EPA will seek comments on whether to subject three coal plants in various stages of the development to the new standard, or treat them as existing sources. They are the Sunflower Electric Power Corp.'s facility near Holcomb, Kan., Power4Georgian's planned Washington County, Ga., facility, and Wolverine Power Cooperative's plans for a new power plant near Rogers City, Mich.

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  • Since carbon limits have been fait accompli for a decade now
    It's hard to see how any "government caused" energy crisis is coming for us. We might have problems ahead due to our foolish, intractable reliance on coal, but that's the fault of our "leaders" who are so beholden to big coal that they're afraid to even utter the word "renewable" in the same sentence as the word "energy."
  • D grade in Marion county
    I'm not sure what you were trying to prove with that map. Marion county received a D. That's pathetic. I don't care about California, never lived there and don't want to. I care about the air I breathe in Indiana and a D isn't going to cut it.
  • Fly Over Coal
    If you look at aerial photo or fly over the SE Indiana areas you will be shocked at the devastation and pollution of the mines. They had this hidden behind trees and farms for years but now anyone can see the permanent damage this causes. Also the new I-69 has exposed all these trashed areas which you could not see before. This is a little like Weyerhauser clear cutting Mt. St. Helen's to bare ground for years until the eruption. After the eruption the new visitors center drew millions of visitors into the higher areas who suddenly saw the devastation from the cutting. Immediately government officials and citizens began to pressure Weyerhauser to replant and abandon clear cutting. Difference is the coal mining devastation is much more permanent. Just look at the old mine sites in Google Earth. They are butt ugly scars.
  • CO2E
    This is not a war against coal, but a war against Carbon Dioxide Equivalents (CO2E). The two largest producers of CO2E are transportation and energy production. Transportation is currently undergoing incredible progress in efficiency and now it is time for electricity generation to do the same. Indiana is in the RFC West E-Grid which has 1,546 lb of CO2E/MWh. This is nearly triple the emissions found in the grids along the west coast. Higher energy costs led to more use of wind and solar technologies. What may make the market more difficult for some Indiana companies may help jump start the use of more green technology just like we have seen in our vehicle market. Indiana is not blessed with the sunlight of southern California, but the “oh so sunny and hot” *sarcasm* country of Germany is the number one producer of solar electricity in the world (5.1 TWh this past July as opposed the .8 the U.S. produced). We just need to diversify our energy portfolio and give natural resource burning companies the incentive to innovate over the next 10 to 15 years rather than pushing environmental costs to the general population. Even though Indiana may employ 2,500 people in the coal mining industry, it has been estimated that 550 die due to coal pollution each year in Indiana. http://www.catf.us/resources/publications/files/The_Toll_from_Coal.pdf This bill may not be the perfect solution, but they are getting there.
  • Non-Partisan Study
    Jim, does the American Lung Association qualify as non-partisan in your book? See their "most polluted cities" map here http://www.stateoftheair.org/2013/city-rankings/most-polluted-cities.html. Indiana looks really good to me. California has some issues. Sorry, no kool-aid here.
    • Phenomenal air quality?
      Indiana has phenomenal air quality? Stop drinking the right-wing kool-aid and read a non-partisan study of how Indiana's air quality rates against other states.
    • Hilarious
      Lori will be the first one complaining when her electricity bill triples when Indiana faces a government induced energy crisis. I'll go ahead and say "I told you so" now. Also, Indiana has phenomenal air quality. Try breathing the air in LA and see if you can't "feel" the difference.
      • It's About Time
        The United States and especially Indiana is so behind with recycling and not polluting. I'm glad to see steps are finally being made. Also, all I heard from Dan Coats was, I don't care about the air that Hoosier breathe, I just care about my bank account. Outrageous.

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