- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Environmental Protection Agency Tuesday proposed greenhouse-gas regulations that effectively would prohibit the construction of new coal-fired power plants.

The rules, released in draft form and expected to be finalized later this year, would require new coal facilities to use expensive carbon-capture technology, which is still being developed and is not yet financially viable.

The EPA is not limiting emissions from existing coal plants, which provide about 45 percent of the nation’s electricity, or those expected to break ground within the next 12 months.

Despite those exemptions, some energy analysts are warning that the agency’s actions could result in higher electricity rates in coming years. Many in the industry also see the proposal as another example of what they say is the Obama administration’s unrelenting war on fossil fuels, contrary to the president’s frequent claims to have an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy.

“President Obama promised to bankrupt coal-powered electricity in the United States, and this latest rule … makes good on that promise,” said Thomas J. Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research. “If the EPA’s new rules are finalized, entire industries across the United States will be pushed out of business, and jobs with them. [The rule] satisfies the ideological demands of environmental extremists who want to destroy traditional energy in America.”

In addition to its proposed limits on coal, the agency also is mulling sweeping new regulations on the natural-gas industry. Next month, the EPA will release proposed guidelines for air emissions from drilling sites and later this year will unveil a widely anticipated report on purported links between hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and water contamination.

The environmental movement, a key constituency in Mr. Obama’s re-election effort, has enthusiastically backed all of those new rules and has pushed for even harsher crackdowns. Its proponents view Tuesday’s announcement as a small, yet significant, step in the right direction.

“These first-ever carbon pollution standards for new power plants mean that business as usual for the nation’s biggest sources of carbon pollution, dirty coal-burning utilities, is over,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club.

Republicans in Congress see it much differently and wasted little time Tuesday in blasting the rules and painting them as a backdoor way for the administration to achieve environmentalists’ aims without democratic decision-making.

It first tried to tackle fossil-fuel emissions with the “cap-and-trade” legislation, which stalled in Congress. Some conservative and coal- and oil-state Democrats, along with virtually all Republicans, opposed the measure. Unable to muscle cap-and-trade through Congress, the EPA has simply bypassed lawmakers, said Rep. Fred Upton, Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

EPA continues to overstep its authority and ram through a series of overreaching regulations in its attack on America’s power sector,” Mr. Upton said in a statement. “President Obama likes to say he is for ‘all of the above’ American energy, but his policies prove otherwise.”

The EPA requirements would force coal-fired plants to meet the standard of “1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour,” a threshold that could be met only with unavailable carbon-capture technology. But the agency said its rules actually will change little because coal-powered plants already are on their way out.

“Because of the economics of the energy sector, the EPA and others project [natural gas] will be the predominant choice for new fossil-fuel-fired generation even absent this rule,” reads a portion of the proposed regulation.