Nebraska Sues EPA over Power Plant CO2 Restrictions

Published February 6, 2014

The State of Nebraska has filed a suit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for overreaching restrictions on carbon emissions from coal-power plants.

Bankrupting Coal Power
Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning filed the suit January 15 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska. Bruning and Nebraska state officials are challenging an EPA proposed rule that would cap carbon dioxide emissions at new power plants to 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour of power generation. Coal power plants would have to cut emissions by approximately 50 percent to meet the standards. No current or expected technologies could enable coal power plants to meet such a standard and remain economically viable.

The EPA standards appear to be fulfilling a pledge President Barack Obama made in a meeting with the editorial board of the liberal San Francisco Chronicle while campaigning for president in 2008. Obama promised to impose enough costs on coal-fired power plants that companies would go bankrupt trying to build them.

“I’m capping greenhouse gases, coal power plants, natural gas, you name it—whatever the plants were, whatever the industry was, they would have to retrofit their operations. That will cost money. They will pass that money on to consumers under my plan of a cap-and-trade system. Electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket,” said Obama at the time.

“If somebody wants to build a coal-fired plant, they can. It’s just that it will bankrupt them,” Obama added.

Impossible Economic Standards
Tom Tanton, president of economic consulting firm T2 & Associates, said EPA’s proposed restrictions would indeed cause electricity costs to skyrocket and inflict economy-wide harm.

“The 1,100 pounds-per-megawatt standard would likely require carbon capture, a technology not yet commercially proven. EPA is basically trying to push the technology, even though it is not cost-effective,” Tanton explained.

“The impossible standards imposed by the EPA will ensure no new power plants are built in Nebraska. This federal agency continues to overstep its authority at the detriment of Nebraska businesses,” Bruning said in a statement emailed to Environment and Climate News.

Federal Funding at Issue
The State of Nebraska is challenging the EPA proposal on the grounds the rule would violate the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which prohibits EPA from considering federally funded projects when determining an appropriate form of emissions control. The State claims the EPA greenhouse gas restrictions are based on an analysis of three inoperable coal plants that have received more than $2.5 billion in federal subsidies. Those plants were used to demonstrate carbon capture is technically possible, but they did not purport to show it is economically feasible.

EPA has 60 days to respond to the lawsuit.

“EPA has not responded to the suit. Any response will not be due until March 24,” Katie Spohn, a spokeswoman at the Nebraska Attorney General office, told Environment and Climate News.

Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.