Sources: EPA Scrambles To Protect Key Climate Rule

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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The Environmental Protection Agency may delay a contentious rule mandating carbon capture technology for coal-fired power plants, according to news reports.

The agency has not officially commented on the reported rule, but sources familiar with the possible delay of the New Source Performance Standards say it stems from serious problems with its carbon capture mandate.

Since the EPA’s NSPS for coal plants was proposed last fall, it has been subject to comments, government records requests and congressional oversight over its requirement that coal plants install carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

The reported delays come as House Republicans are preparing to receive a slew of documents that may endanger the agency’s rule, sources told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Reps. Fred Upton of Michigan and Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania requested documents from the Energy Department in September, including communications between the DOE and EPA over the legality and feasibility of mandating coal plants use CCS. According to sources, the DOE is preparing to hand those documents over to House lawmakers.

Republican lawmakers argue that mandating CCS violates the Environmental Policy Act of 2005, which prohibits the EPA from mandating technology that is backed by government funding.

TheDCNF was also told by sources that comments filed about the regulation from opposition groups have cast further doubts on the legality of EPA’s CCS mandate. In particular, comments from the Energy & Environment Legal Institute submitted in March were a cause for concern within the EPA.

“The 2005 Energy Policy Act prohibits EPA from using subsidized power plants as examples that technology is commercially viable or that such technology has been ‘adequately demonstrated,’” wrote energy and legal experts at EELI.

“EPA solely relied upon plants that received subsidies in reaching this rule, though it later substituted smaller, non-analogous carbon capture operations as examples once it became aware of the prohibition on using subsidized plants,” EELI experts added.

EELI also points out that EPA ignored concerns from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget and the DOE saying the agency did not “clearly represent the facts” about CCS and misconstrued a DOE study on the subject.

EELI has filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the EPA and DOE to obtain documents relating to the decision-making process surrounding the CCS mandate for coal plants. Documents from these FOIA requests should soon be forthcoming.

In September 2013, the EPA proposed its rule to cut carbon dioxide emissions from new coal-fired power plants. The rule set emissions standards for new coal plants so low that the only technology theoretically capable of meeting the rule was CCS — which critics say is an unproven technology.

No commercial-scale coal plant in the country currently uses CCS to syphon off carbon emissions. There are U.S. CCS power plant projects under construction, but they have all gotten federal government funding and suffer from delays and cost overruns.

The EPA, however, has argued that CCS is “adequately demonstrated” technology, citing examples like the Kemper power plant in Mississippi — which will be the first commercial-scale power plant in the U.S. to use CCS.

But the Kemper plant has suffered huge setbacks. The project has seen delays in its timetable and significant cost overruns. The Associated Press reported in October that the total cost for Kemper is pushing $6.1 billion. The plant was given a $270 million grant from the DOE and can get $279 million in tax credits when it begins operations.

The project was originally supposed to cost just $2.8 billion for the plant and its associated coal mine, and was supposed to begin operations last year, the AP reports. The plant’s opening date has been pushed from June 2015 to March 2016 and additional delays could cost $20 to $30 million a month.

Sources say that problems with Kemper have prompted the EPA to switch its focus from the Mississippi project to the Boundary Dam CCS project in Canada, which came online earlier this year.

Boundary Dam power plant in Estevan, Saskatchewan comes online after a four-year $1.21 billion retrofit. The plant’s operator, SaskPower, hopes the project can prove CCS is a workable technology. The project did, however, get $240 million from the Canadian government.

The EPA did not immediately respond to TheDCNF’s request for comment on their reported CCS rule delay.

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