The Acting Environment Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced on Thursday a proposal to roll back Obama-era regulations on emissions from new coal plants which required the use of carbon capture and storage technologies, describing them as “excessive burdens on America’s energy providers.”
While the proposal was in no way a surprise, it is nevertheless deeply disappointing and a further attack on former President Obama’s attempts to fight climate change. The 2015 policy required any new coal-fired power plants use carbon capture and storage technologies to limit carbon dioxide emissions to no more than 1,400 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour (MWh).
According to the new proposal — a revision under the Clean Air Act (CAA) section 111(b) of the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) — the EPA will seek to redefine its determination of the best system of emission reduction (BSER) for new, modified, and reconstructed fossil fuel-fired power plants. This new determination is intended to replace the EPA’s 2015 determination that partial carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies are the BSER for new coal units. Ironically, the new proposal was announced under the heading “EPA Proposes 111(b) Revisions to Advance Clean Energy Technology.”
“Consistent with President Trump’s executive order promoting energy independence, EPA’s proposal would rescind excessive burdens on America’s energy providers and level the playing field so that new energy technologies can be a part of America’s future,” said EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “By replacing onerous regulations with high, yet achievable, standards, we can continue America’s historic energy production, keep energy prices affordable, and encourage new investments in cutting-edge technology that can then be exported around the world.”
“Today’s actions reflect our approach of defining new, clean coal standards by data and the latest technological information, not wishful thinking,” added EPA Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation Bill Wehrum. “We take seriously our responsibility to protect public health and the environment in a manner consistent with the requirements of the Clean Air Act and will continue to do so. US coal-fired power will be a part of our energy future and our revised standards will ensure that the emissions profiles of new plants continue to improve.”
The specifics of the new proposal, as written out by the EPA, are as follows:
- To revise the standards for newly constructed steam units as separate standards for large and small units.
- For large units, the proposed emission rate would be 1,900 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour on a gross output basis (lb CO2/MWh-gross).
- For small units, the proposed emission rate would be 2,000 lb CO2/MWh-gross.
- To create separate standards of performance for newly constructed coal refuse-fired units.
- Regardless of size, the proposed emission rate would be 2,200 lb CO2/MWh-gross.
- To revise the standards for large modifications of steam generating units to be consistent with the standards for large and small newly constructed units.
- To revise the standards of performance for reconstructed fossil fuel-fired steam units – which are also based on the best available efficiency technology – to be consistent with the emission rates for newly constructed units.
Thus, where the Obama-era regulations required emissions to be no more than 1,400 pounds of CO2 per MWh, the new Trump-era EPA is looking to increase this to, at minimum, 1,900 lb CO2/MWh-gross — essentially removing any incentive for new plants to reduce their emissions by taking steps such as installing CCS technology.
“Acting Administrator Wheeler today continued the Trump administration’s shameful rampage against climate and clean energy policies,” said Rachel Cleetus, policy director for the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, speaking in response to the announcement. “Let’s be clear: New conventional coal-fired power plants are simply not a smart bet in today’s power market dominated by cleaner generation sources and weakening carbon pollution standards for new plants will not alter that basic fact.
“Still, this is an especially galling move, coming on the heels of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, an authoritative scientific report from 13 federal agencies, including the EPA, which documents the toll that climate impacts are already taking on our economy, infrastructure and health—a toll which will worsen as heat-trapping emissions rise.”
“The ongoing trend away from coal toward cleaner forms of electricity generation has already led to a 28% drop in US power sector carbon emissions since 2005, a trend Mr. Wheeler ironically took credit for just a couple of months ago,” Cleetus added. “We now need to accelerate this clean energy momentum to meet climate goals.”
This move contrasts strongly with figures published by Trump’s own Energy Information Administration (EIA) this week which showed that US coal consumption is expected to fall to 691 million short tons (MMst), its lowest level in 39 years.
Also stepping into the fray to comment on the EPA’s decision is Janet McCabe, former acting assistant administrator for air quality at the United States Environmental Protection Agency, who said that, “Rather than abandoning reasonable standards, we should be doubling down on investments in technology that limits emissions and helps us become more resilient amidst an already dire climate outlook. Setting aside the human toll, the willingness of EPA to put forth this standard on the heels of the recent National Climate Assessment, which found climate change could decrease U.S. GDP 10 percent by the end of the century, is even more baffling.”
“The Midwest in particular is projected to bear a significant brunt of climate change impacts in the decades to come,” she added. “Relaxing standards will only further inhibit our ability to combat decreased crop yields, costly flooding or new disease risks — all factors stemming from climate change.”
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