The EPA’s ‘technically feasible’ standards

The EPA’s bait-and-switch on coal continued this week in Washington.  During a Senate hearing on the EPA’s budget for 2015, administrator Gina McCarthy tried her best to argue that all the agency is really trying to do is give coal a path forward to continue to be part of the nation’s energy portfolio.

The “bait” the EPA tosses out is carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), the technology that removes carbon dioxide produced during the burning of coal and other fossil fuels.  The EPA says it has a responsibility under the Clean Air Act to reduce CO2 emissions and other greenhouse gases because they affect the climate.

The EPA’s new standards for CO2 make it impossible to build a coal-fired power plant in the future without CCS. The problem, however, is that no one really knows whether the economics of CCS work.

Senator John Hoeven (R-N.D.) tried to pin McCarthy down Wednesday, arguing the new carbon emission standards for coal-fired power plants are not achievable because “carbon sequestration is not commercially viable.”

In her response, McCarthy chose her words carefully.  “We believe carbon capture and sequestration is actually technically feasible (emphasis added).”

Hoeven interrupted McCarthy.  “I did not say ‘technically feasible,’ I said ‘commercially viable.’”

McCarthy said the term “technically feasible” is the standard of the law, which means only that the EPA projects that the technology will be available when a power plant is built.   Well, a manned mission to Mars is technically feasible, but that doesn’t mean we’ll be going anytime soon.

The EPA likes to point to the coal-fired Kemper County Energy Facility in Mississippi as an example of how CCS technology can be used to burn coal cleanly, but that’s a stretch.   The price tag for Kemper has more than doubled, to $5 billion. Taxpayers kicked in $700 million in grants and tax credits, and Kemper has been promised $2.8 billion in higher electric rates in one of the poorest parts of Mississippi.

The Kemper plant is illustrative of why McCarthy will not use the words “commercially viable.”  Kemper allows the EPA to give lip service to its alleged commitment to the continued use of coal, while simultaneously scaring off utilities and investors.

However, the worst is yet to come.  Next the EPA will issue CO2 emission standards for existing power plants.  No doubt they will come with McCarthy’s assurances that meeting those new standards will be “technically feasible.”



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