- - Tuesday, March 4, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has trouble following the law. Not only is the Supreme Court mulling whether the agency overstepped its regulatory authority regarding greenhouse-gas emissions, but last month the EPA released regulations regarding Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) — a pleasant-sounding policy that oversteps the EPA’s legal authority and bilks Americans once in their taxes and again in their utility bills.

This regulation is the fulfillment of President Obama’s 2008 campaign pledge, “If somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can — it’s just that it will bankrupt them.”

On a technical level, this technology is supposed to allow coal-fired power plants to trap the carbon dioxide they produce and then store it, usually underground. The regulation’s backers think that it’s a major step forward for lowering greenhouse-gas emissions.

At least, that’s the dream. No one has successfully put CCS into practice. In its regulatory filings, the EPA singled out four utility projects as proof that carbon capture and storage is economically and technologically viable.

None of the four projects are currently operational, though.

The first project is Mississippi’s Kemper County Energy Facility, which is not yet complete. It will provide “partial CCS” when finished. (The final regulation mandates full compliance for new plants.)

The plant is also projected to cost $4.3 billion — nearly $2 billion more than its initial price tag.

Next is Canada’s SaskPower Boundary Dam. The EPA hopes that it will open later this year. It is also $115 million over budget.

Two of the projects cited by the EPA are still in the planning phase: The Texas Clean Energy Project and the Hydrogen Energy California Project. The most that the EPA can say about them is that they “continue to move forward.”

This lack of real-world proof also puts the EPA on a shaky legal footing. The Clean Air Act — the statutory vehicle that the EPA is using to justify its regulations — requires that new mandates and regulations be “adequately demonstrated.”

The act defines this as “achievable through the application of the best system,” while federal courts have interpreted it to mean that new regulations must be based on technology that is “reasonably reliable,” “reasonably efficient” and “demonstrat[ed in] commercial-scale systems.”

Compare this with the EPA’s hopeful statement that “a few coal-fired units have reached the advanced stages of construction and development.”

As to their economic viability, it must be noted that all of these projects have been heavily subsidized by the federal government. The Kemper plant received $270 million from the Department of Energy and $133 million in tax credits.

The Energy Department also gave $450 million to the Texas project and $408 million to the California venture.

Utility companies are like canaries fleeing the mine. CPS Energy, the biggest municipally owned utility in the country, announced on Jan. 6 that it would not renew its energy-purchase agreements with the Texas Clean Energy Project.

In its decision, the company specifically cited the plant’s ongoing problems and delays.

If these plants ever enter the commercial market at a national level, the energy they generate will be significantly more expensive than current coal-generated power.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that CCS-equipped coal plants will cost $135 per megawatt-hour by 2018. This total is 35 percent more expensive than conventional coal plants.

This regulation is thus a declaration of war on middle-class wallets. In 2012, coal was the single largest source of electricity generation in the United States, accounting for 37 percent of the country’s electricity output.

Yet every new coal plant will face significantly higher costs once the regulations go into effect. They’ll be left with no choice but to pass their higher costs on to consumers, who already paid for the plants once with their tax dollars.

The EPA’s CCS rules are open for public comment until March 10. Then the EPA will likely finalize the regulations and put them into effect later this year.

Before that happens, legislators, activists and every American should tell the EPA that this “clean” regulation is nothing more than a dirty trick.

Tim Phillips is the president of Americans for Prosperity.

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