EPA Set to Announce New Emissions Standards for Gas and Coal-Fired Power Plants

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Alabama Power’s Miller Steam Plant on the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River emits more mercury into the air than any other power plant in the country. It is also a source of fine particulate pollution and ozone, which cause the Ozone allergy or the Ozone Flu.

By Glynn Wilson

The Obama administration is set to establish tough new pollution standards for natural gas-fired power plants for the first time this month, according to a breaking news story just out from the Washington Post. The new regulation will require power companies to install expensive carbon control equipment on gas as well as coal-fired power plants.

Due to increasing pressure from environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, and since the Senate finally confirmed Gina McCarthy to Obama’s cabinet as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA is set to propose even stricter emissions standards on coal-fired power plants, according to sources inside the administration. The announcement is set for Sept. 20.

The initial proposal would have mandated that new power plants meet a standard of keeping carbon dioxide emissions under 1,000 pounds per megawatt hour of electricity produced. That rule was overhauled in the spring because of a threat of a legal challenge from the power industry.

EPA data shows that the average natural gas plant in the U.S. emits 800 to 850 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour, while coal plants emit an average of about 1,768 pounds. Sources say the agency is set to keep the carbon limit for large natural gas plants at 1,000 pounds, while smaller gas plants will be allowed some flexibility.

The standard for coal plants could be as high as 1,300 or 1,400 pounds per megawatt hour, sources said, and power companies will still have to capture some of the carbon dioxide they emit.

President Obama described establishing a carbon rule for new plants as part of his overall plan to address global warming in a major speech on climate change in June.

In an e-mail message, EPA spokeswoman Alisha Johnson said the agency “is working to finalize its re-proposal of a pollution standard for new power plants in light of the important comments received by the agency and in a way that considers the viewpoints of all stakeholders. President Obama is committed to taking action for our kids by cutting pollution and addressing climate change in a way that protects public health and helps develop a stronger economy through science, research and innovation.”

Sources who are opposed to the federal regulations, including power companies, their attorneys, coal mining companies and even their unions have attacked the rules as a “war on coal.”

Staffers inside the administration have been telling people in the industry about the higher standard for coal in the works. The Post quotes Jeffrey R. Holmstead, a partner at the Bracewell and Giuliani law firm “who represents several companies that operate coal-fired plants,” as saying the carbon capture and storage requirement will make it “impossible” to build new coal-fired power plants.

“As a practical matter, this means that the new proposal will still stop any new coal-fired power plants for the foreseeable future,” he said. Holmstead headed EPA’s air and radiation office under President George W. Bush, an administration that catered to the industry and actively pushed deregulation, which led to more pollution, bad air and health problems on the part of Americans.

While the power industry, the coal industry and their representatives say regulations cost jobs, in fact these regulations create high paying union jobs since the workers who are members of pipefitters unions will be the ones hired to build any new power plants or to install any new pollution control equipment on older plants.

© 2013, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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