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Coal-Fired Power Plants Split on EPA's Proposed Emission Rule


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency submitted its proposed rule that would limit greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants to the White House Office of Management and Budget earlier this week, according to the Charleston Gazette. And Thursday, the Senate will take up the measure, which reports say is likely to fail.

The Atlanta Constitution has more:

Even though the vote is likely to fail because even Republicans are not universally in favor of the proposal by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., it will pave the way for other proposals with support in both parties to delay the rule’s implementation, now scheduled for January.

Paul's proposal would overturn the EPA’s cross-state pollution rule, which requires power plants to cap and regulate two major pollutants. The rule is a rewrite of a Bush administration rule that was overturned in the courts in 2008.

The White House threatened to veto the measure, saying in a memo that it “would cause substantial harm to public health and undermine our Nation's longstanding commitment to clean up pollution from power plants.”

Two rules -- the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards and the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule -- would, according to the agency, prevent "11,000 heart attacks, 17,000 premature deaths, 120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms." But from they start they have been lambasted by some groups stating it would put some plants out of business due to the expensive equipment needed to help sequester some of these emissions. The Wall Street Journal reports that Bernstein Research estimates that about 5 percent of the generation capacity in the U.S would be lost if the rule is carried out.

WSJ states that the rule, if finalized, would provide coal-fired power plants with three years to meet the new standards:

Some companies say that is impossible. Interviewed at an industry conference in Orlando, Fla., this week, some executives warned that the timeline could put the reliability of the nation's electricity at risk.

Asked whether Southern Co. could meet a three-year timeline, Chief Executive Thomas Fanning said flatly, "No. And no one else can either."

Nick Akins, the incoming chief executive of American Electric Power Co., called the proposed time frame "ridiculous."

Rep. Joe Huntsman was also quoted earlier this month as saying plants being unable to make the costly retrofits meant we would  "likely see blackouts as a result of the administration's assault on coal, which will take 8 percent of U.S. generating capacity offline."

But with a little fact check USA Today recently revealed Huntsman is contradicted by a letter from the  Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which states "the commission would seek to find ways to require or allow utilities to operate when needed for reliability or other purposes while being compensated adequately and without violating other federal laws."

Even still, WSJ notes that Sen. Dan Coats (R., Ind.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W. Va.) introduced a bill this week to try and extend compliance deadlines to give "states and utilities the time needed to plan and prepare." This was met by environmental opposition stating the emission reductions would probably be pushed back continually if this bill were to go through.

But others within the industry think the time frame is "doable." WSJ continues:

"I think three years is doable," said Jim Rogers, chief executive of Duke Energy Corp., in an interview. Chris Crane, chief operating officer of Exelon Corp., agreed, saying companies shouldn't be given an easy excuse for putting off the modernization of their fleet.

There are clear reasons for the split. Exelon relies substantially on nuclear power or plants fired by cleaner-burning natural gas, so it stands to sell more electricity if older coal plants come offline. Duke says it has already retrofitted many of its coal plants due to state mandates.

Industry and some conservative politicians have argued that if the proposed rule is accepted and implemented thousands of jobs will be at stake. Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY) wrote in an opinions piece for Fox News that if one or both of the rules are finalized, it could result in 183,000 jobs lost each year till 2020. Whitfield notes that jobs not directly related to the power plants, but indirectly, would be lost as well:

It is not just the jobs directly related to the generation of power that would be lost. Once the multiplier effect kicks in, the consequences will extend to those individuals whose jobs depend on the buying power of those employed at these plants.

They include local service providers and merchants who would find a diminished customer base due to the loss of jobs and salaries. This is especially true in many of the nation’s smaller communities, where the local impacts would be particularly felt.

Even with the industry itself unable to completely agree on the proposed rule, WJS reports that an industry trade group, the Edison Electric Institute, created asking for a six year timeline extension based on each plant's situation. This compromise is being backed by both sides of the industry.

The rule is supposed to be finalized by mid-December.

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