EPA Chief Administrator Gina McCarthy claims she is “busier than [she’s] ever been” as the agency rushes to finish major carbon dioxide regulations on power plants before President Obama leaves office.
“One of the main focuses of the White House right now is to make sure that the administration is coordinated, so that the entire breadth of the climate action plan can be basically realized before the president leaves office,” McCarthy told the Hill in an interview published Thursday.
With only 22 months left in Obama’s second term and the departure of climate adviser John Podesta, McCarthy has been meeting with the president more than ever in a rush to finalize the administration’s legacy: the first-ever carbon dioxide regulations on power plants.
As part of Obama’s “Climate Action Plan,” the EPA proposed two new regulations capping carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. The first, proposed in fall 2013, is a de facto mandate that new coal-fired power plants install carbon capture technology to meet new emissions standards.
The second regulation, and most contentious, was announced summer 2014. The rule, also called the “Clean Power Plan” of 111-D, forces states to cut carbon emissions from power plants 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
Both power plant regulations have sustained legal challenges from states and the coal industry. With such heavy resistance from conservatives, both regulations need to be finalized before Obama leaves office, or else their fates will be in the hands of a future administration — possibly a Republican one.
“We certainly have enough information to know what the big issues are that we need to tackle so I have been meeting at least once a week every week with the team of people in the agency that are working on 111-D,” McCarthy said.
“For a rule like this there is no way that we are not going to be challenged,” McCarthy added. “We think we have appropriately used 111-D for this sector and that the rule will be not just be legally defensive, it’s going to be solid.”
In fact, the EPA is so keen on quickly pushing out its climate rules they may be reconsidering a key plank of the rule for new power plants: the de facto carbon capture mandate.
InsideEPA reports that the agency “is analyzing scenarios that would drop its contentious carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) mandate for new coal-fired power plants … amid growing agency concern that the rule is legally vulnerable.”
The EPA’s rule for new coal plants set carbon dioxide emissions limits at 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour — a standard that can only be met by installing carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.
The only problem with CCS: it’s not been proven to work well on a commercial scale. The only cases where CCS has been used are at small-scale government-funded projects.
Federal law prohibits the EPA from mandating technology that is subsidized by the government, a fact which Republicans were quick to point out. Republicans have also threatened to use the Congressional Review Act to derail the EPA’s carbon dioxide regulations.
“We’re gonna be able to use the CRA,” said Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe.
“If you talk to people in the real world they’ll tell you that EPA regulations are so onerous they can’t be competitive,” he added. “President Obama is trying to do the things he couldn’t do through legislation through regulation.”
The EPA’s proposed rule for new coal plants only cited government-backed CCS projects as proof the technology is ready for prime time. Unfortunately for the agency, those examples aren’t very good ones.
One CCS project cited by EPA got its federal funding pulled in February. FutureGen 2.0 got $1.1 billion from the Obama administration’s 2009 stimulus package, but persistent problems forced the government to pull the plug earlier this year.
“In order to best protect taxpayer interests, the Department of Energy has initiated a structured closeout of federal support for the project that will help maximize the value of investments to date while minimizing ongoing risks and further costs,” said Energy Department spokesman Bill Gibbons.
Another CCS project EPA touted was the Kemper plant, which got $270 million from the Energy Department and another $133 million in investment tax credits from the IRS. This project too has run into problems, including delays and huge cost overruns. Kemper was initially projected to cost $2.4 billion, but is now estimated to cost $5.6 billion.
EPA has tried to refocus its CCS efforts by highlighting the Boundary Dam CCS plant in Canada — a project that was backed by the Canadian government. The project went online last year.
But SaskPower also ran into problems of cost overruns and delays. It was also a government-backed project, which means it still likely violates federal law.
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