Obama moves to limit power-plant carbon pollution

The proposal, which would set the first national limits on heat-trapping pollution from future power plants, is intended to help reshape where Americans get electricity, moving from a coal-dependent past into a future fired by cleaner sources of energy. It’s also a key step in President Barack Obama’s global warming plans, because it would put in motion proposals to end what he called “the limitless dumping of carbon pollution” from all power plants.

Under the law, once the Environmental Protection Agency controls carbon at new plants, it will also control carbon at existing plants — a regulation the agency said Friday it would start work on immediately to meet a June 2014 deadline.

Yet the federal government’s own analysis of the new power plant proposal concludes that it would have a “negligible” impact on carbon dioxide emissions, pose little to no costs for the industry and provide no additional benefits to the public by 2022. That’s because it essentially locks in what was widely expected to happen anyway. Even without new federal regulations, the agency concluded that no new coal plants would have been built without carbon controls. Instead, the bulk of new power in this country would be supplied by natural gas, which already meets the standard announced Friday.

“The EPA … does not anticipate this rule will have any impacts on the price of electricity, employment or labor markets or the U.S. economy,” the EPA wrote in its analysis.

The industry, and its allies in Congress, quickly dismissed that conclusion.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said the agency was holding the coal industry to “impossible standards.”

“If these regulations go into effect,” he said, “American jobs will be lost, electricity prices will soar, and economic uncertainty will grow.”

Deck Slone, a senior vice president at Arch Coal, said the technology was simply not available to clean coal plant emissions.

“We believe that coal plants with near-zero greenhouse gas emissions will be achievable in time, but such technology is simply not available today,” he said. “The administration’s proposal goes way too far, way too fast — and threatens to arrest rather than spur technology advances.”

EPA administrator Gina McCarthy said in a speech Friday that rather than damage an industry, the proposed regulations would help the industry to adapt, by encouraging energy companies to develop ways to reduce carbon dioxide, the chief greenhouse gas, from burning coal.

“This proposal, rather than killing future coal, actually sets up a certain pathway forward for coal to continue to be part of the diverse mix in this country,” McCarthy said. “We know that coal is going to be part of the energy generation that we rely on substantially over the next few decades. Why wouldn’t we now acknowledge and invest in the kind of technologies that will allow coal a future long beyond that?”

The EPA pointed to four coal-fired power plants under development — in Texas, Mississippi, California and Saskatchewan, Canada — to show that the rule is possible to meet.

Yet one of the companies behind those plants, Southern Co., said Friday that its Kemper County Energy Facility in Mississippi “cannot be consistently replicated on a national scale.” The facility, scheduled to open in May 2014, is close to low-cost lignite coal. It is also adjacent to an oil field, where the carbon dioxide will be injected to produce more oil.

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