EPA taking comments on emissions limits for new coal-fired power plants

UPDATE: Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said Monday the EPA will not call for existing coal plants to use carbon capture and sequestration technology in proposed emissions limits for those plants that will be released next year.

Speaking in Washington, McCarthy said carbon capture is most effective when it’s designed with the facility itself which is why the proposed emissions limits for new coal-fired power plants requires the use of it.

“It is not seen, at least at this stage, as an add-on that could be used to put on an existing conventional coal facility,” said McCarthy.  “In those applications it doesn’t seem that it’s appropriate at this stage.”

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Comments are now being accepted on the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed emissions limits for new coal-fired power plants which are designed to reduce carbon pollution.

Jeri Matheney, Communications Director for Appalachian Power, said the proposal will make building a new coal-fired plant difficult.  “It really effectively eliminates coal as an option for a new power plant because the emission limit is so much lower than any existing coal-fueled generating technologies can achieve,” she said.

Critics have claimed the federal government has unfairly targeted coal with the regulations.

But Ted Boettner, executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, said the coal industry’s problems in the Mountain State started before the EPA’s new limits.

“If the EPA just dismantled and shut down today, we’re still going to have a declining structure for coal in West Virginia,” said Boettner.  “That’s part of the problem is we’re not acknowledging that this is happening right now.”

The proposed limits, which were released Friday, would restrict emissions from the coal-fired power plants of the future to 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour.  There is an option to average emissions over multiple years.  New plants, though, would have to rely on still-developing carbon capture technology to meet the requirements.

Natural gas-fired power plants would be limited to 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour.

Boettner said it’s natural gas that is causing coal’s problems, not the EPA.  “Cheap and abundant gas is the central reason,” he said.  “So, if you really want to get coal going, you need to start banning fracking in other states.  That would be the logical solution if you really wanted to up coal.”

Matheney said Appalachian Power’s projections indicate natural gas prices will remain relatively stable for the next ten years, so the company is in the process of converting a Virginia coal-fired plant to a natural gas-fired plant.

“If we were to build a new plant now, it would be a gas plant and that’s for economic reasons,” she said.  “Gas plants, right now, are less expensive to build and to operate.”

Currently, Matheney said coal accounts for 74 percent of Appalachian’s fuel.  By 2015, the coal contribution could drop to 69 percent.  She said the company needs flexibility to go with the fuels that are the most cost effective at any given time.

“We need to be able to choose the right power plant at the time we’re building.  This takes away that flexibility,” she said of the EPA’s proposals.

The agency has called the plan a first milestone in President Barack Obama’s “Power Sector Carbon Pollution Standards.”

“By taking common sense action to limit carbon pollution from new power plants, we can slow the effects of climate change and fulfill our obligation to ensure a safe and healthy environment for our children,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy of the new proposed limits.

Proposed emissions limits for existing coal-fired power plants are scheduled to be released by next June.  “We’re hopeful that those rules are more flexible so we can continue operating our plants,” said Matheney.

Regardless, Boettner said the state needs to prepare for a future with less coal.

“Since many of the state leaders have put all their energy into denouncing the EPA instead of a workable, positive solution for the state, the problem is it very well could be a hard landing for many working families, especially those in the Southern Coalfields,” he said.  “I think that would be a tragedy.”

Both Matheney and Boettner were guests on Monday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

The EPA will take comments on the proposal for new coal-fired power plants for the next 60 days.

Comments on the proposed Carbon Pollution Standards for New Power Plants must reference Docket ID: EPA-HQ-OAR-2013-0495 and can be submitted in one of the following ways:

  • www.regulations.gov: Follow the on-line instructions for submitting comments.
  • E-mail: Comments may be sent by electronic mail (e-mail) to a-and-r-Docket@epa.gov.
  • Fax: Fax your comments to: 202-566-9744.
  • Mail: Send your comments to: Air and Radiation Docket and Information Center, Environmental Protection Agency, Mail Code: 2822T, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, DC, 20460.

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