EPA Proposes Easing Carbon Dioxide Emission Standards for Coal Power Plants

Published February 11, 2019

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed significantly loosening the standards governing carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fueled power plants, issuing regulations to allow quicker, less-expensive upgrades and the building of new facilities without as yet unproven carbon capture and storage technologies (CCS).

The modified New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) governing greenhouse gas emissions from new, reconstructed, and modified coal-fired power plants are an outgrowth of the Trump administration’s Executive Order (EO) Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth. That EO directed EPA and other agencies to review existing regulations and revise or rescind “those that unduly burden the development of domestic energy resources beyond the degree necessary to protect the public interest or otherwise comply with the law.”

CCS Requirement Repealed

EPA’s proposed new standards would rescind the Obama administration’s 2015 provision declaring CCS as the best system of emission reduction for new and reconstructed coal units, in light of what the new NSPS calls the “high costs and limited geographic availability of CCS.” The Obama administration’s standards would have made it virtually impossible to build any new coal power plants in the United States.

EPA says the changes officially proposed in December would rescind excessive restrictions placed by President Barack Obama on U.S. energy providers and will help advance U.S. progress on energy production while maintaining vital public health and environmental protections.

“Consistent with President Trump’s executive order promoting energy independence, EPA’s proposal would rescind excessive burdens on America’s energy providers and levels the playing field so that new energy technologies can be a part of America’s future,” EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in the agency’s statement announcing the new rules. “By replacing onerous regulations with high, yet achievable, standards, we can continue America’s historic energy production, keep energy prices affordable, and encourage new investments in cutting-edge technology that can then be exported around the world.”

“Today’s actions reflect our approach of defining new, clean coal standards by data and the latest technological information, not wishful thinking,” said EPA Assistant Administrator Bill Wehrum in a press statement. “We take seriously our responsibility to protect public health and the environment in a manner consistent with the requirements of the Clean Air Act and will continue to do so. U.S. coal-fired power will be a part of our energy future, and our revised standards will ensure that the emissions profiles of new plants continue to improve.”

Big Policy Reversal

Obama demonstrated animosity toward the coal industry through his restrictive environmental policies, says James Taylor, a senior fellow at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News.

“The Obama administration purposefully and effectively banned new coal power plants through its new source restrictions,” said Taylor. “Rather than steering energy suppliers to install the best environmental technologies on new coal power plants, the restrictions deliberately made the construction of new coal power plants uneconomical.

“It is frightening that a single person—even a president—could essentially shut down an entire industry based on personal animosity,” Taylor said.

President Donald Trump’s proposed revisions will reduce electricity prices and help ensure the steady supply of power, Taylor says.

“The Trump administration’s proposed revisions will once again allow the construction of whatever type of power plants provide the most affordable form of power generation, which in many instances will be coal,” said Taylor. “The revised standards, while still imposing strict environmental requirements that go far beyond what is necessary to safeguard clean air, will help ensure Americans continue to enjoy affordable and reliable electricity.”

Effectively Banned Coal Power

The Obama administration set carbon dioxide emissions levels so low no existing coal power plant could continue operating nor new ones be approved unless they installed CCS, and because CCS is not commercially viable, the rules effectively banned the use of coal to generate electricity, says Kenny Stein, director of policy for the Institute for Energy Research (IER).

“Carbon capture and storage hasn’t been proven effective,” said Stein. “They’ve tried it a couple of times, and the economics don’t make sense with the current technology.

“The Trump administration’s proposal removes the CCS requirement and sets carbon dioxide emission standards at a reasonable level coal plants can actually meet,” Stein said. “Now it’s at least possible with current technology to economically build coal power plants.”

The previous administration’s rule was part of Obama’s anti-coal climate agenda, says Stein.

“This rule was an integral part of the Obama administration’s war on coal,” Stein said. “The rule appeared neutral but was effectively a ban on new coal power plants, and it was intended as such.

“The Obama rule made it super-expensive to build coal power plants, ensuring nobody was going to build one because it just didn’t make sense,” said Stein. “So in that sense, it limited the choice of fuels for the future because it eliminated a low-cost domestic source of electric energy production.”

‘Eliminates Artificial Barriers’

The Trump administration’s revised NSPS opens up energy production to competition based solely on cost and performance, without government picking winners and losers, says Stein.

“Trump’s NSPS eliminates artificial barriers to using domestic energy resources, allowing utilities to pursue the lowest-cost energy source without the government putting its finger on the scale,” Stein said.

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.


“Proposal: NSPS for GHG Emissions from New, Modified, and Reconstructed EGUs,” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: December 6. 2018: https://www.epa.gov/stationary-sources-air-pollution/proposal-nsps-ghg-emissions-new-modified-and-reconstructed-egus