‘War on coal’ heats up as Congress gets back in session

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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An upcoming fight between the Environmental Protection Agency and congressional Republicans is being billed as the latest front in the “war on coal.”

The Environmental Defense Fund has launched an ad blitz supporting President Obama’s plan to tackle global warming by limiting carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants. EDF’s ads target Republican senators in key states, urging them to support Obama’s climate agenda.

“Right now there are no limits at all on the largest source of carbon pollution,” said Keith Gaby of EDF. “The President’s plan will finally put in place sensible limits, which are supported by both leading businesses and environmentalists.”

The ad campaign will target four states — New Hampshire, Illinois, Arizona, and Pennsylvania —  and Washington, D.C.

EDF will also do a homepage “takeover” of Politico on the same day the House has scheduled a hearing about the president’s climate plan.

“Every member of Congress needs to decide if they are in favor of these reasonable limits, or prefer the status quo of no limits at all on carbon pollution from its largest source,” Gaby added.

At the same time, however, Kentucky Republican Rep. Ed Whitfield is drafting legislation that would limit the EPA’s authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, which the bill’s supporters believe will be a powerful weapon in upcoming elections in key coal states.

Whitfield’s bill would make it easier for new coal plants to be approved and plans on introducing the bill when the EPA unveils their new carbon emissions limits on September 20.

The coal industry is also urging the Obama administration to ease carbon dioxide limits for coal plants, arguing that utilities have already invested billions in pollution control technology which would be wasted if EPA rules forced their plants to retire.

“This industry has never feared competition,” National Mining Association President Hal Quinn told Platts Energy Week. “What we’re rightly concerned about is policies that don’t allow us to compete. We think reliable, affordable electricity [is] perfectly aligned in the public interest.”

Earlier this summer, President Obama bowed pressure from environmentalists and announced that he would use his executive authority to unilaterally address global warming. His plan largely involved directing the EPA to issue carbon dioxide emissions limits for power plants — the largest source of U.S. carbon emissions.

The EPA previously proposed emissions limits that would effectively ban the construction of coal-fired power plants unless they used carbon capture technology, which is not commercially viable.

“If EPA wants to issue rules that say new coal plants have to use [carbon capture], we don’t have anything that’s been integrated and fully demonstrated,” Quinn said.

White House officials hinted that the EPA would establish separate carbon emissions standards for coal plants and natural gas plants. However, such promises have done little to ease the minds of coal state Democrats.

“We’ll have to see how it plays out,” West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin told The Washington Post. “They’re using every tool they have to destroy the most abundant, reliable and affordable resource that we have.”

Burning coal generates 30 percent of U.S. power, and the share of electricity generation from coal is expected to rise to 40.5 percent in 2014 due to higher natural gas prices.

According to the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, more than 280 coal-fired generating units are slated to be shut down in part due to stricter Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

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