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EPA administrator questioned about new emission standards

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As EPA administrator Gina McCarthy continued to make the rounds on Capitol Hill Wednesday with the agency’s new budget proposal, she once again she found herself answering questions about new emission standards for coal-fired power plants.

McCarthy was before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee when Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) asked about coal-fired power plants in his state.

“Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is not commercially viable,” Hoeven said. “So how are we going to build any new coal plants even with the latest technology and CCS with your latest proposed rules?”

McCarthy said told Hoeven the EPA believes CCS is “technically feasible.”

But the Republican senator shot back: “I did not say technically feasible. I said commercially viable.”

McCarthy answered that “technically feasible” is the standard under the law.

“Nobody is indicating that CCS isn’t adding cost. The challenge we have here is that we need to provide a path forward for coal in a future that we know will be carbon constrained,” McCarthy said.

Those in the coal industry and with electric utilities have said new rules proposed last year would make the future construction of coal-fired plants nearly impossible.

When the rules were announced last September the EPA called it “a first milestone” in President Obama’s carbon pollution standards.

The proposal limits new coal-fired power plants to 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) per megawatt-hour. There’s also an option to average emissions over multiple years. Natural gas-fired power plants would face a limit of 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour.

McCarthy said Wednesday the EPA has already noticed investment in “new coal and clean coal.”

“We’re hoping to continue to provide an emphasis for that,”

Hoeven said there’s no market for the captured product, and which means there will be no investment. Other industry analysts have said carbon capture is an unproven technology that currently has no commercial value.

Hoeven told McCarthy he’s concerned about new emission rules expected soon on existing coal-fire plants.

“You’ve got to show us that whatever rule you bring out is commercially viable and is not going to shut down plants, and what the cost to consumers and small businesses across this country is going to be,” the senator said. “That it is something that is truly achievable, not technically achievable. It has to be commercially viable.”

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