Coal Tattoo

Multiple media outlets are reporting this morning that the Obama administration is ready to issue its proposed regulations to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Juliet Eilperin at The Washington Post broke the story last night:

The Environmental Protection Agency will issue the first limits on greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants as early as Tuesday, according to several people briefed on the proposal. The move could end the construction of conventional coal-fired facilities in the United States.

The proposed rule — years in the making and approved by the White House after months of review — will require any new power plant to emit no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt of electricity produced. The average U.S. natural gas plant, which emits 800 to 850 pounds of CO2 per megawatt, meets that standard; coal plants emit an average of 1,768 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt.

The story continues:

Industry officials and environmentalists said in interviews that the rule, which comes on the heels of tough new requirements that the Obama administration imposed on mercury emissions and cross-state pollution from utilities within the past year, dooms any proposal to build a coal-fired plant that does not have costly carbon controls.

“This standard effectively bans new coal plants,” said Joseph Stanko, who heads government relations at the law firm Hunton and Williams and represents several utility companies. “So I don’t see how that is an ‘all of the above’ energy policy.”

The rule provides an exception for coal plants that are already permitted and beginning construction within a year. There are about 20 coal plants now pursuing permits; two of them are federally subsidized and would meet the new standard with advanced pollution controls.

An administration official who asked not to be identified because the rule hasn’t been announced wrote in an e-mail Monday night: “This standard provides a clear and certain path forward for industry and the important domestic energy sources they rely on” for electricity generation.

President Obama does not mention coal as a key component of the nation’s energy supply in speeches about his commitment to exploiting oil and gas reserves and renewable sources.

So … stand by the a flurry of attack statements from the coal industry and from coalfield politicians, who will undoubtedly trash this regulatory proposal — most of them before they’ve really even seen it.

In West Virginia, coal industry defenders were on a high coming into this week, basking in the glow of their victory in federal court over the EPA’s veto of the Spruce Mine permit (see the comments from Hoppy Kercheval and from the Daily Mail’s editorial page, while remembering that Don Surber says he doesn’t need facts, because he’s not a journalist).  Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin wasn’t content to praise that federal court ruling, but also felt he needed to remind us that he’s pursuing a separate court case to block any and all efforts by the EPA to address environmental and public health damage from mountaintop removal.

Over in Washington, though, EPA has been quietly working to do what Congress (with much help from coalfield lawmakers) refused to do: Take action to at least begin to try to deal with an even bigger economic externality of coal and our appetite for it: Global warming.

We’ll have to wait to see the exact details of the EPA proposal, but Dina Cappiello from the AP reports:

The regulation is likely to draw fire from Republicans, who have claimed it will increase electricity prices and clamp down on domestic energy resources.

But it also will fall short of environmentalists’ hopes because it goes easier than it could have on coal-fired power generation. Coal-burning plants are already struggling to compete with cheap natural gas.

The proposed rule will not apply to existing power plants or new ones built in the next year. It will also give future coal-fired power plants years to meet the standard, which will eventually require carbon pollution to be captured and stored underground.

Keep in mind how much coal industry officials and their friends among regional politicians have talked up carbon capture and sequestration, or CCS.  If all EPA is doing is issuing a rule to eventually require that technology, why would the industry oppose it?

Stay tuned …

UPDATED — Here’s a link to the EPA proposal and this is the agency’s statement about it:

EPA is proposing to take common-sense steps under the Clean Air Act to limit carbon pollution from new power plants. EPA’s proposed standard reflects the ongoing trend in the power sector to build cleaner plants that take advantage of American-made technologies. The agency’s proposal, which does not apply to plants currently operating or new permitted plants that begin construction over the next 12 months, is flexible and would help minimize carbon pollution through the deployment of the same types of modern technologies and steps that power companies are already taking to build the next generation of power plants. EPA’s proposal would ensure that this progress toward a cleaner, safer and more modern power sector continues.

Power plants are the largest individual sources of carbon pollution in the United States and currently there are no uniform national limits on the amount of carbon pollution that future power plants will be able to emit. Consistent with the US Supreme Court’s decision, in 2009, EPA determined that greenhouse gas pollution threatens Americans’ health and welfare by leading to long lasting changes in our climate that can have a range of negative effects on human health and the environment.