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43 New Coal Plants Would Escape Climate Bill CO2 Standards

By David Sassoon

Jul 16, 2009

Corrective legislation, however, was never enacted, and during the eight years of the Bush administration, EPA enforcement of the Clean Air Act was lax within a larger context of the administration's reluctance to acknowledge global warming and act on climate solutions. Progress was made primarily at the local level, due to efforts by individual states to regulate aging plants within their own borders.

When the Supreme Court ruled in in 2007 that the EPA could regulate CO2 under the Clean Air Act, there was some expectation that these grandfathered plants could finally be brought under a compliance regime. Legal experts believe that under various provisions of the act, EPA could develop CO2 performance standards to improve the efficiency of the nation's aging fleet of existing plants.

Experts also believe that new coal plants could be required to use "best available control technology" (BACT) to control emissions if EPA maintains its authority to regulate CO2 under the New Source Review (NSR) provision of the Clean Air Act.

But the ACES bill would take away that authority. Sections 831-835 specifically amend the Clean Air Act to prohibit the listing of CO2 as a "criteria pollutant" and the consideration of greenhouse gases in New Source Review.

Instead, Congress reserves for itself the authority to set performance standards for new coal plants, which it stipulates in detail in Section 812. But 43 coal plants "initially" permitted before Jan. 1, 2009, will be exempt from the standards, which if the legislation is signed into law without modification, will create another fleet of grandfathered coal plants on American soil.

"When you create the possibility of circumventing a regulation, you create unanticipated opportunities for gaming the system," Kaplan said, "especially when lots of money, big companies and smart people are involved. You shouldn't be surprised if the mice in the maze are so motivated they chew through the wall."

In 2005, the EPA estimated that the average U.S. coal plant emitted 4.6 million metric tons of CO2 during each year of operation. Assuming that the average new plant would be 20% more efficient, the 43 new coal plants would collectively emit almost 160 million metric tons of CO2 a year – which alone would represent close to 8% percent of the total 2005 U.S. coal plant emissions of 2.1 billion metric tons of CO2.

The only tool the ACES bill creates to combat those new emissions is the gradually descending cap on carbon it imposes, but Kaplan and many others believe it is weaker than it should be to do its job effectively.

"If the cap was as strong as it should be, it would send an economic signal that would push against the coal plants," Kaplan said. "But the ultimate lesson of grandfathering is that once you create a path to non-compliance, you can't assume it won't be travelled indefinitely."

The National Energy Technology Laboratory's report also identifies an additional 44 coal plants that have been "announced" by industry. It is unknown if any of these have initial permits that would allow them to be grandfathered as well. Nor does the NETL report track if any of the new progressing plants would lead to the closing of any existing coal plants.

NETL used to collect and disseminate its own data on coal plant construction, but it now buys the information from a private company, and so it is not at liberty to release the detailed information underlying its report for public scrutiny. It would be useful information for lawmakers to have as ACES works its way through Congress. The measure is struggling to deliver overall emissions reductions of 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 – still an inadequate target by both scientific and international standards.

This newest bubble of grandfathered coal plants will be pulling emissions in the opposite direction for many decades to come.

"Every time you build a high carbon piece of infrastructure, it's as if you're dropping a depth charge on the future," Kaplan said. "That's the end result we need to visualize now."


See also:

Clean Air Jump-Start

Clean Air Act Trips Up Sunflower's Coal Plant Deal in Kansas

Clean Energy Climate Bill Gives Coal a Competitive Future

Survival Strategy for an Aging Coal Plant: New Hampshire's 'Big Dig'

EPA Investigating Aging Coal Plants, Like N.H.'s Merrimack

Sierra Club Chalks Up 100th Victory in Fight to Stop New Coal-Fired Power Plants

Attachment Size
Tracking New Coal. NREL Report.pdf 1.24 MB

We are returning to the past

We are returning to the past I guess, what s a pity!!!

It would be a tragic news if

It would be a tragic news if 43 new coal plants escape climate bill of CO2 standards due to loopholes in the law. The voice has been raised in time. So it is expected that congress would not make the same mistake again. Enough public awareness campaign and opinion should be raised to create the pressure on the law makers to reconsider the issue.

This is why I don't like

This is why I don't like statistics. They can be manipulated by simply deleting large chunks of data with excuses such as “progressing projects.” What a shame.

Self Sustainning Electricity Grid

Nickola Telsa proved the theory of the self sustainning electric dynamo over 100 yeaars ago !
Plug an electric motor into an existing power supply and use the motor to drive a electyricity generator.
Imagine a Wheel sitting on a Lotus Flower; where the Lotus is a Linear Electic Rail Motor, and the wheel a generator.
The teory has it that the entire electricity grid can be made self sustainning.

But the coal industry and the Tax man wouldn't want that !!

Self-Sustainning (sic) Electricity Grid

Where does the electricity that you get from the "existing electricity supply" come from. And if you put 100 units of energy into the motor, you'll only be able to generate, say, 80MW from the generator it is driving.

This is the problem with the internet. This poor logic and these half-baked claims get equal air-time with legitimate arguments.

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