Not Even Democrats Believe EPA On Viability Of ‘Clean Coal’ Tech

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Michael Bastasch Contributor
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The Environmental Protection Agency is under fire again for touting the viability of carbon capture technology for coal-fired power plants, but this time it’s coming from a prominent Democratic senator.

“Forcing new coal-fired plants to meet standards when experts know that the required technology is not sustainably operational on a commercial scale makes absolutely no sense,” West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin wrote in a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy Tuesday.

Manchin argues the EPA’s de facto mandate for new coal-fired power plants to use carbon capture and storage, or CCS, technology is based on unproven projects that were heavily subsidized by government agencies.

“By requiring technology that has never been adequately demonstrated, the EPA is forcing an industry to shut down and consumers to pay higher utility bills,” Manchin wrote to McCarthy. “I have always said that if it is unobtainable, it is unreasonable.”

EPA’s Clean Power Plan limits carbon dioxide emissions from new and existing power plants. Agency emissions standards for new power plants, however, are so low that only plants using CCS technology can comply. Republicans and coal industry supporters have argued that CCS is not commercially viable and EPA’s de facto mandate violates federal law.

EPA argued that even though all major CCS projects in development are getting government subsidies, the technology was still viable. But Manchin’s letter shows evidence to the opposite — a Canadian CCS project touted by EPA has been a disaster.

EPA relied on Canada’s Boundary Dam CCS project as the basis for mandating CCS in for U.S. coal plants. EPA said that “Boundary Dam facility has been operating full CCS successfully at commercial scale since October 2014.”

There’s just one problem. Boundary Dam has run into major technical challenges that have hampered its operations. The project has failed to operate for months when trying produce power and use CCS technology. When Boundary Dam was operating, it failed to even meet EPA’s emissions standards.

“If a standard is impossible to meet, for a minimum of 12 months of sustained commercial operation, then it is unreasonable to impose that standard on our people,” Manchin wrote.

Manchin isn’t the first to criticize the EPA for relying on Boundary Dam as the basis for its CCS mandate. Attorney Chris Horner with the Energy and Environment Legal Institute filed regulatory comments on EPA’s rule, pressing the agency on its reliance on Boundary Dam.

“We pressed EPA in our comments on the New Source Performance Standards that CCS technology was not commercially viable,” Horner told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “As these facts confirm, the opposite is true and inescapable.”

Horner’s comments may have caught EPA off-guard as the agency scrambled in the months before finalizing the Clean Power Plan to stave off legal challenges to its CCS mandate. Rumors surfaced in May that EPA was ditching its CCS mandate, though they ended up keeping it in the final rule.

“The rule still implicitly requires CCS by imposing otherwise impossible or economically unfeasible options,” Horner said. “As such, this rule is still unlawful for the same reason, and we have filed with the court our intention to press that point.”

Horner has joined 26 states and dozens of business groups and unions in suing the EPA, trying to get the Clean Power Plan struck down by the courts.

As for Boundary Dam, the company that operates the project, SaskPower, says the project won’t be fully operational until the end of 2016.

“We are gratified that Senator Manchin and others on both sides of the aisle are pressing EPA on this issue also. In the meanwhile we hope the court will act to prevent this rule before all the harms EPA knows it will cause can take effect,” Horner said.

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