The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans on repealing an Obama-era requirement effectively mandating all new coal-fired power plants be outfitted with unproven emissions technology, The Daily Caller News Foundation has learned.
EPA will modify the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for power plants as part of its effort to repeal the Clean Power Plan (CPP) — the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s climate agenda. EPA will drop the de facto requirement that new coal plants install carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology Obama administration critics said would make it nearly impossible to build new coal plants.
“It’s fantastic that the Trump EPA is repealing the Obama EPA’s ban on new coal-fired power plants,” Junkscience.com publisher Steve Milloy told TheDCNF.
It’s not clear exactly how EPA will modify NSPS, but dropping the CCS mandate could mean raising carbon dioxide emissions limits for new power plants to a threshold that allows more highly efficient plants to be built.
In the past, coal plant operators have called for higher emissions limits to allow the building of supercritical and ultra supercritical units. Only one ultra supercritical coal plant, the Turk power plant, is operating in the U.S.
“While no new standard is really necessary since U.S. coal plants already burn coal cleanly and safely, kudos to the Trump EPA for requiring only the best existing and affordable technology,” said Milloy, who served on President Donald Trump’s EPA transition team.
The Obama administration finalized the NSPS in 2015, which set limits on how much carbon dioxide new power plants could emit. Emission rates for coal plants were set so low new plants would have to install CCS technology.
When the EPA finalized NSPS in 2015, the coal industry said it would effectively kill coal-fired power in the U.S. because it mandated unproven technology. EPA and environmentalists argued CCS was a viable technology. “Highly efficient supercritical pulverized coal unit with partial carbon capture and storage” was the best way to meet emissions limits, EPA found.
“This final standard of performance for newly constructed fossil fuel-fired steam generating units provides a clear and achievable path forward for the construction of such sources while addressing GHG emissions and supporting technological innovation,” EPA wrote in its 2015 regulation.
There were no operating U.S. power plants with CCS when the Obama administration promulgated its rule. To get around that fact, EPA relied heavily on a Canadian government-backed project CCS called Boundary Dam.
However, Boundary Dam only retrofitted a single coal-fired unit with CCS — not an entire power plant. The project has captured more than 2 million metric tons of CO2, but it’s come at a steep price of nearly $1.2 billion.
The Obama EPA also cited U.S. projects in development to argue CCS was “technically feasible to implement at fossil fuel-fired steam generating units.” But all of those projects were government-funded, which GOP lawmakers argued violated the Environmental Policy Act of 2005.
For example, Southern Company’s Kemper power plant in Mississippi was one project EPA highlighted in its 2015 rule, but the plant suffered from massive delays and cost overruns. Building Kemper ended up costing more than $7 billion.
On top of that, Kemper would not use its CCS equipment and instead burn natural gas, Southern CEO Thomas Fanning announced in 2017. Federal lawmakers are pushing legislation to further subsidize CCS to make the technology viable.
“Though the Obama EPA rule would technically have allowed coal plants that captured and stored about 50 percent of their CO2 emissions,” Milloy said, “that standard was known to be financially, physically and politically impossible to meet for any existing or imagined coal plant.”
“The Obama standard was de facto ban on new coal plants,” Milloy said.