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First proposed carbon pollution standard generates controversy

By Michael P. Tremoglie | Mar 28, 2012

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) -- The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed the first Clean Air Act standard for carbon pollution.

The rule only concerns generating units that will be built in the future and does not apply to existing units already operating or units that will start construction over the next 12 months.

This proposed regulation, announced March 27, follows the landmark 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, in which the Court determined that greenhouse gases are air pollutants for purposes of the Clean Air Act. The ruling gave the EPA the authority to determine if they threatened public health and welfare.

The EPA Administrator subsequently ruled in 2009 that the current and projected concentrations of greenhouse gases endangered the public health and welfare of current and future generations. The EPA announced it would issue rules that would address GHG pollution from certain fossil fuel-fired power plants.

"Today we're taking a common-sense step to reduce pollution in our air, protect the planet for our children, and move us into a new era of American energy," said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. "Right now there are no limits to the amount of carbon pollution that future power plants will be able to put into our skies - and the health and economic threats of a changing climate continue to grow. We're putting in place a standard that relies on the use of clean, American made technology to tackle a challenge that we can't leave to our kids and grandkids."

But the new rule has its critics. One, the Heartland Institute is a free-market think-tank located in Chicago, Il., is claiming crony capitalism.

"With around 50,000 megawatts of coal-fired power set to be forcibly retired in the next few years - thanks to the draconian policies of Obama's EPA - this rule ensures that no new modern, efficient coal fired power plants will be built to fill the gap," said Richard J. Trzupek, its environmental policy advisor. "The administration will continue to push its pixie-dust energy policies instead, pretending that expensive, inefficient, and unreliable solar and wind power can somehow fill the gap."

Trzupek said the "big winner" will be the General Electric Company. He noted that solar and wind energy sources cannot compensate for the power that will be lacking from the removal of coal-fired plants from the electric grid.

"The only way to ensure continued reliability of the grid is to build a lot of natural gas-fired power plants quickly," he said. "And who is the world's biggest supplier of natural gas-fired combustion turbines? GE of course. This move reeks of more crony capitalism hiding behind the dubious cloak of eco-purity."

The EPA said at the present time there is no uniform national limit for the carbon pollution emitted by new power plants. The proposed standard only applies to power plants built in the future. It will help minimize carbon pollution through the implementation of modern technologies and initiatives that companies are already taking to build the next generation of power plants.

According to the EPA, the proposed standards can be met by a variety of power facilities burning different fossil fuels, including natural gas and coal that employ technologies reducing carbon emissions. It claimed there will not be any additional costs to the industry.

But some are not so certain. One authority says energy will be inexpensive despite the EPA not because of it.

Dr. Kenneth Green is an environmental expert with the nonpartisan American Enterprise Institute, Washington, D.C. He said the Obama administration is benefiting from the shale boom in North Dakota and Pennsylvania.

"I think that the Obama administration has been blessed with some outrageous luck in the form of the shale-gas boom that has occurred despite their best efforts to slow it down," he said.

He observed that because of the boom, low natural gas prices are already making coal power plants non-competitive. The new electricity generated from that is comparably priced to that from coal. Therefore, there are less coal-power pollutants and no increase in electricity prices.

"The administration knows it can now pass these new standards without getting a huge push-back from the power sector," Dr. Green said. "They understand coal's days are numbered, at least for domestic use. So, the administration gets a freebie they can give to their enviro-base without incurring a huge political price for it. The part about allowing us to use coal with (clean coal technology) is little more than a figleaf as the cost of that technology will almost certainly make it prohibitively expensive."

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Organizations in this Story

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)American Enterprise InstituteHeartland Institute