The Environmental Protection Agency’s dramatic new power plant emissions standards already have touched off a firestorm within the coal industry and on Capitol Hill, with top Republicans promising to fight tooth-and-nail against President Obama’s climate-change agenda.
The EPA, the leading actor in the White House’s ambitious global-warming initiative, released the limits on Friday. Hopes that they’d be much less stringent than previous proposals proved to be misplaced.
Coal-state lawmakers from both parties are promising to push back.
“The president is leading a war on coal and what that really means for Kentucky families is a war on jobs. And the announcement by the EPA is another back door attempt by President Obama to fulfill his long-term commitment to shut down our nation’s coal mines,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.
Kentucky is one of the nation’s largest coal producers.
“Our miners and their families have had enough and it must stop,” Mr. McConnell continued. “I will continue to fight aggressively in the Senate on behalf of our coal miners to save these jobs and our state and to ensure they are protected from this president and his anti-coal allies in the U.S. Senate.”
The new power-plant standards are somewhat generous to natural gas, allowing large gas-fired power plants to emit up to 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour. Natural gas facilities, which produce much less carbon than coal plants, should be able to meet that limit.
But the standards — if unchanged during the looming public comment and review period — will effectively ban the construction of any new coal-fired power plants.
The EPA is proposing a limit of 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour for coal facilities, a figure the industry says is virtually impossible to meet with current commercially available, financially viable technology.
“It’s a joke,” Michael J. Beyer, president and CEO of Foresight Energy, a leading coal company, said of the EPA proposal and his industry’s ability to comply with it.
“If these regulations go into effect, American jobs will be lost, electricity prices will soar and economic uncertainty will grow. We need the federal government to work as a partner, not an adversary, and to invest in America’s energy future. I will continue to fight EPA overreach,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, West Virginia Democrat.
Some analysts had predicted the agency would relax its proposal and allow coal plants as much as 1,300 or 1,400 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour. In the end, however, the EPA provided only modest relief; last year’s draft of the proposal set a 1,000-pound limit.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy defended the standards on Friday morning, saying her agency and the administration are acting on behalf of future generations’ right to breathe clean air
“At the end of the day, that is what the issue of climate change is all about. That’s why EPA cares,” Ms. McCarthy said during a speech at the National Press Club in Washington. “The president’s climate action plan calls on federal agencies to take steady, sensible and pragmatic steps to cut the harmful carbon pollution that fuels our changing climate and to prepare for unavoidable impacts based on the climate change that is already happening and is inevitable.”
Ms. McCarthy also said the agency will take its next step in the summer of 2014 by offering standards for existing coal power plants, some of which are a half-century old and could not possibly meet the limits without hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrades. But she disputed the notion that coal-fired facilities effectively have been banned.
“They have a path forward for the next generation of power plants in this country,” she said of the coal industry, pointing to carbon capture and sequestration technology that traps CO2 before it is emitted into the air.