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GOP Begins New Push to Delay EPA Rules on Toxic Power Plant Emissions

Republicans say installing long-overdue pollution controls would harm economic recovery, while advocates claim the rules would create jobs and save lives

By Lisa Song, SolveClimate News

Apr 20, 2011
A coal-fired power plant in Utah

Paul Miller, deputy director of (NESCAUM), told SolveClimate News that many control technologies are already in use. "This isn't Star Wars technology ... [There's no] testing barrier."

According to by consulting firm and co-authored by Bradley and Tierney of Analysis Group, some 200,000 megawatts worth of coal plants already have, or are planning to install, adequate pollution controls. That covers about 60 percent of the total U.S. coal fleet, which generates 330,000 megawatts.

Another 20,000 to 30,000 megawatts are headed towards retirement, said Tierney. These plants are small, old and generally inefficient. They're already under economic pressure due to low natural gas prices and may be "pushed over the edge" by the EPA rules, she said.

(Listen to SolveClimate News podcast episode: Coal Owners Retiring 'Signficant Components of Their Fleets')

"It's like an old car that at some point loses a carburetor and it's just not worth it to repair," said Tierney.

In total, about 10 percent of coal capacity may be headed for retirement, said Tierney. Fanning of Southern Company said during his testimony the number is closer to 20 percent.

Bradley said that claim is an overestimate, adding that new pollution controls could limit the number of coal-plant casualties. "When we look at the flexibility included in the proposals along with some of the technologies deployed recently, it's going to mitigate the number of retirements."

He pointed to the technology of dry sorbent injection, an acid-gas capturing device designed for small coal plants. It's relatively cheap, said Bradley, and already used in 43 plants.

While Fanning warned that shutdowns could lead to possible blackouts, Tierney said there is enough surplus capacity on a national scale to make up for lost power capacity.

On a regional level, Tierney said that some older and less efficient plants that might otherwise shut down would remain open to keep up adequate power supplies. In those cases, the EPA would give special extensions to allow them to reach compliance.

Costs of Control Technologies

The EPA that control technologies would cost the industry nearly $11 billion a year, a price tag far outweighed by the up to $140 billion in annual health and economic benefits.

When placed in context, said Bradley, $11 billion is at most 10 percent of the $80 to $110 billion that the industry spends each year on capital and infrastructure projects.

Ratepayers would bear some of the cost of new pollution controls. On average, the EPA projects that retail electricity prices would increase 3.7 percent in 2015 and drop to a 1.9 percent increase by 2030.

Those percentage estimates are a "national average that will vary quite a bit from state to state," said Bradley. But electricity rates also vary across different regions, so large percentage increases might have little impact in some parts of the country.

In addition to public health gains, maintaining EPA's current timeline is in the interest of businesses, said Tierney, arguing that utilities need to know what to expect in order to make sound financial decisions.

"It would be terrible to postpone these [regulations] … not just because the toxins have been identified as problematic for a decade … but also from a business point of view."

hope they dump their waste

hope they dump their waste properly

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