EPA moves to ban coal power while China, Europe embrace it

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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The Environmental Protection Agency has finally published its carbon dioxide emissions limits for power plants, which will effectively ban the building of new coal-fired plants unless they install clean coal technology.

The Obama administration’s planned shift away from coal comes as Asia and Europe become more reliant on the fuel source to power their growing economies or to bring down power prices.

The agency published its proposed rule Wednesday in the Federal Register that caps emissions for power plants. The rule sparked the ire of the coal industry when the agency set limits that were unreachable unless new coal plants use carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, which is commercially unproven.

“Forcing America to abandon its largest and most reliable energy source is a reckless gamble with the nation’s economy,” Hal Quinn, president of the National Mining Association, said in a statement. “A more expensive and less diverse electricity supply will only stand in the way of economic growth and job creation.”

The coal industry and Republican lawmakers argue that banning new coal plants from being built would cripple the coal industry — which is the backbone of some state economies — and would increase power prices. One study by the Brattle Group found that energy prices will increase up to $4 per megawatt hour for on-peak hours as coal plants are retired.

Prices could be driven up by as much as 15 percent if natural gas-fired plants replace all of the retiring coal plants in the coming decade. This would force energy prices up to $11 per megawatt hour during peak hours.

“As coal-fired power plants are set to retire and EPA uses every regulatory trick in the book to make sure no new plants are built, we are going to see increased uncertainty in energy prices, reliability, capacity and reserves,” Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an emailed statement.

This news comes as China approved 100 million metric tons of new coal production capacity in 2013, despite air widespread air pollution concerns in the country. This is part of the Chinese government’s plan to bring 860 million metric tons of coal production online by 2015 — more than the entire annual coal output of India.

“By requiring CCS, EPA is placing a de facto ban on the construction of new coal-fueled power plants, handing over leadership of the development of CCS, and an estimated $1 trillion in economic benefits, to countries like China,” said Laura Sheehan, spokeswoman for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.

Germany is embracing increased coal-fired power as the country struggles to rein in electricity prices from renewable energy programs and make up the slack as nuclear plants are closed. German coal industry figures show that bituminous coal and lignite provided 45.5 percent of the country’s power in 2013 — up from 44 percent in 2012.

“This Administration’s biased anti-coal policies frustrate our economic livelihood and shows that they’ve learned nothing from the failures of Europe,” Vitter added.

Environmentalists, on the other hand, have championed the EPA’s de facto coal plant ban. Such groups have also urged the agency to go further and set emissions limits on existing coal plants — which the EPA has said it would do.

“Cutting carbon pollution from new power plants means that tomorrow’s electricity won’t come at the expense of our children’s future,” writes David Doniger with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Power plants are the nation’s biggest source of the carbon pollution that is dangerously changing our climate — responsible for more than two billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions each year.”

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