The battle lines have been drawn as 17 states, the coal industry and pro-coal Democrats and Republicans prepare to take on the Environmental Protection Agency’s new carbon dioxide emissions limits.
These sweeping new rules effectively ban the construction of new coal-fired power plants.
The EPA’s new emissions limits cap carbon emissions for coal plants at 1,100 pounds per megawatt hour , which is an unmeetable standard unless operators install carbon capture and storage technology. This technology has yet to prove commercially viable.
“If these regulations go into effect, American jobs will be lost, electricity prices will soar, and economic uncertainty will grow. We need the federal government to work as a partner, not an adversary, and to invest in America’s energy future,” said West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin,.
Coal plants are being held to nearly the same standard as natural gas-fired power plants which will be allowed to emit 1,000 pounds of carbon per megawatt hour. However, natural gas emits about half as much carbon and only natural gas plants will be able to meet the EPA’s new standards.
“Today’s proposal maintains EPA’s pie in the sky standard-setting mentality despite the Agency’s admittance that unilateral regulations would have no impact on global emissions levels,” said Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter. “EPA completely ignores other nations’ missteps, and the severe negative impacts from trying to address carbon emissions. Their actions have resulted in economic uncertainty, job loss, and increased electricity prices, yet the Agency continues to barrel on – full speed ahead.”
Both Republicans and coal country Democrats have opposed the new regulations, arguing it will cripple the coal industry and cause electricity rates to skyrocket.
“The facts are plain and simple: Coal provides the greatest share of electricity we use, generating around 40 percent of our power,” Manchin added. “It’s just common sense to level the playing field and accept that coal is, and will be for the foreseeable future, a significant part of our energy mix.”
However, environmentalists hailed the announcement as a critical step to fulfill President Obama’s vow to address global warming.
“Right now there are no limits at all on the largest source of carbon pollution, so this is a necessary and commonsense step. As communities across our country struggle with terrible floods, droughts, and wildfires, these standards will finally put a limit on the carbon pollution that new power plants emit into our skies,” said Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp. “Cleaner power generation will protect our children from dangerous smog, extreme weather, and other serious climate impacts, and ensure that America leads the world in the race to develop cleaner, safer power technologies.”
U.S. power plants emit 40 percent of the country’s carbon dioxide, according to the EDF, and the average coal plant emits 3.5 million tons of carbon year.