EPA defers regulations for coal-fired power plants

Though delayed, mandate still apt to meet resistance

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The Environmental Protection Agency will reconsider and delay the final release of controversial regulations cracking down on power plant emissions.

In a statement released late Friday afternoon, the agency announced it would conduct a “reconsideration” of the rule, originally scheduled to be completed by the end of the year. The EPA now says it will complete the regulations by March 2013, and that the additional time is necessary because of “new information provided by industry stakeholders.”

“The agency’s review will not change the types of state-of-the-art pollution controls new power plants are expected to use to reduce this harmful pollution,” EPA said in its press release explaining the decision.

Under the rule — which Republicans have attacked as yet another example of the Obama administration’s hostility toward fossil fuels — power plants would be required to greatly limit their mercury and other toxic emissions.

The specific thresholds, widely expected to hit coal plants the hardest, will be set by the EPA and will be based on “levels achieved by the best-performing sources currently in operation,” the agency says on its website.

In its current form, the rule will affect any proposed new plants, while existing facilities will have up to four years from the date of implementation to comply with the regulations.

Coal plants currently generate about 45 percent of the nation’s electricity, and while increasingly popular and abundant U.S. natural gas likely will replace coal eventually as a means of producing power, many specialists think that change must happen gradually and be driven by market forces, not federal regulations.

The EPA has also proposed new restrictions on carbon emissions from coal-fired plants, effectively banning new coal facilities from being built. The carbon standards, which are not a part of the agency’s reconsideration, would require plants to use inexpensive and commercially unavailable carbon capture technology.

The Obama’s administration’s stance has also posed political problems for Democrats from coal-producing states, such as West Virginia and Ohio.

Last week, the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on energy and power held a hearing in Abingdon, Va., and heard testimony from coal miners and other stakeholders from the industry. Coal-sector workers told the committee that their way of life is under attack by the federal government.

“Under President Obama, the Environmental Protection Agency has cranked out one costly anti-coal regulation after another,” said Rep. Ed Whitfield, Kentucky Republican and subcommittee chairman. “The agency tells us we need these measures to protect us from global warming, but, in my view, the cure is considerably worse than the disease.”

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