Neither the science nor the current technological capability supports the EPA’s Carbon Dioxide rules for new coal fired power plants.
The Environmental Protection Agency didn’t let a Clean Air Act requirement that mandated technologies be “adequately demonstrated” hinder their new performance standards ruling that puts a limit of 1,100 pounds per megawatt-hour (lb/MWh) on carbon emissions from new coal power plants. Not only is there no scientifically supportable climate benefit for limiting such emissions, there is no viable commercial-scale technology to achieve that ideological pipe dream. Even if it mattered, the most modern coal-fired plants can only reduce CO2 emissions to 1,800 lb/MWh. What’s more, they already knew that.
Or at least they certainly should have known — after a fact-finding working group within EPA’s own Science Advisory Board (SAB) informed them that such systems have never been proven outside the laboratory, and that pilot demonstration projects under development are over budget. These discoveries led SAB to issue a November 12, 2013, memo which raised questions regarding the technical feasibility of “sequestering CO2” (removing and storing it).
Challenging the credibility of research EPA was supposed to use for rule justification, the communication noted that “the peer-review of scientific and technical information presented for coal-fueled sources appears to be inadequate.”
The SAB working group observation contradicted EPA’s claims based upon speculative studies and models produced by a Department of Energy research unit that sequestration works. EPA had assured the SAB panel that those studies had been vetted by “industry experts, academia, and government research and regulatory agencies.”
Yet upon further investigation the SAB found that “peer-review “ for some of those Energy Department studies was conducted by none other than EPA itself over a brief few-weeks period, and that the rest never received unbiased scrutiny either. As reported, Energy could not provide “a documented or publicly available description of the peer review process,” and EPA refuses to share such information with SAB.
Then something happened on the way to a December 5 meeting of the full SAB panel. Under pressure from EPA they tabled a vote on accepting their working group’s recommendations. EPA officials argued that the SAB wasn’t permitted to review sequestration science after all.
And why? Well because EPA wasn’t really mandating sequestration per se, or making rules for sequestration. No…they were merely requiring coal plants to meet specific emission limits they set (whether achievable or not). How to accomplish that was a separate issue. That was the industry’s problem, not theirs.
Actually, it’s our problem too…a very big one. All of this costs money, and lots of it. First, it demands a huge amount of energy, requiring the coal-fired plant to burn about a quarter more coal to handle the sequestration while producing the same amount of electrical power. This is required to pay for capturing the CO2, compressing it, and transferring it for storage somewhere. The added fuel demand also expands necessary mining operations, coal transportation, and, unlike plant-nourishing CO2, the production of real pollutant byproducts, such as fly ash.
The Institute for Energy Research has estimated that this “regulatory assault” will eliminate 35 gigawatts of electrical generating capacity…10% of all U.S. power generation. As the Competitive Enterprise Institute observes, “If the carbon dioxide emissions standard for power plants proposed by the EPA today is enacted, the United States will have built its final coal-fired power plant.”
The recent SAB incident certainly isn’t the first time that the EPA has ignored advice that runs counter to their ideological agenda. In fact its entire 2009 “endangerment finding” decreeing that atmospheric concentrations of six greenhouse gases (including CO2) “threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations” was refuted at the time by its in-house “Internal Study on Climate” report conclusions.
That report, authored by my friend Alan Carlin, a senior research analyst at EPA’s National Center for Environmental Economics, stated: “…given the downward trend in temperatures since 1998 (which some think will continue until at least 2030), there is no particular reason to rush into decisions based upon a scientific hypothesis that does not appear to explain most of the available data.”
It was political science, not climate science, which demanded hasty EPA action. As then-presidential candidate Barack Obama promised in 2008 while pushing a CO2 cap-and-trade priority: “So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can. It’s just that it will bankrupt them because they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted…That will also generate billions of dollars that we can invest in solar, wind, biodiesel, and other alternative energy approaches.”
He went on: “The only thing I’ve said with respect to coal, I haven’t been some coal booster. What I have said is that for us to take coal off the table as a (sic) ideological matter as opposed to saying if technology allows us to use coal in a clean way, we should pursue it.”
Candidate Obama also said: “Under my plan of a cap-and-trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket. Coal-powered plants, you know, 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.”
When former EPA director Lisa Jackson’s lieutenant Gina McCarthy (who now has Jackson’s old job) was subsequently invited to explain before the House Energy and Commerce Committee how President Obama’s war on coal “Climate Plan” would be expected to impact any of 26 outcome indicators defined on their website, she did little to inspire confidence.
Responding to a question from Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS), McCarthy said: “It is unlikely that any specific one step is going to be seen as having a visible impact on any of those impacts — a visible change in any of those impacts. What I’m suggesting is that climate change [policy] has to be a broader array of actions that the U.S. and other folks in the international community take that make significant effort towards reducing greenhouse gases and mitigating the impacts of climate change.”
And now, following 17 years of flat global temperatures despite rising atmospheric CO2 levels isn’t it high time to reassess once again what we’re getting for all that money? Even the UN’s alarmist Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has finally been forced to admit that their climate models have grossly exaggerated climate sensitivity to CO2.
Rather than set an example for that international community, wouldn’t it be better to learn from their disastrous climate-action-premised debacles, Europe’s in particular? Consider Germany and Denmark, for example, where so-called “Green energy” policies involving heavily subsidized investments in wind energy force their consumers to pay three times more for electricity than we do, and 30% more than their European neighbors.
Then there’s Britain, which like Germany is closing some of its coal-fired plants, any one of which can produce nearly twice as much power as all of that nation’s 3,000 wind turbines combined. This is less of a problem when there are reliable backup sources such as hydroelectric power, coal, and nuclear plants to meet demand. But most of Europe lacks the former and is intentionally — to its detriment — cutting back on both of the latter.
In following these failed European policies, the Obama Administration is intentionally making energy more expensive for American citizens and job-producing industries. The war on coal, which presently provides about 42% of our power, comes at a time when that industry is already under great economic pressure from abundant and inexpensive natural gas that will continue to replace coal for power and heating.
This blatant regulatory overreach, where government picks winners and losers, permeates virtually all aspects of the current federal energy policy. In addition to attacking coal, an alphabet soup of agencies, including EPA, Interior, and others, are also waging wars on oil and gas drilling. Their arsenal of weapons includes legal actions to preempt state and private land rights; permitting complexities, delays, and uncertainties on federal lands to discourage enterprise; punitive taxes on fossil fuels; and multi-agency regulatory threats against fracking.
There can be no wonder then to see such assaults continue to drive fossil energy costs higher in order to make heavily taxpayer- and consumer0subsidized prices for unreliable wind and solar boondoggles appear competitive. It will require a change at the White House and Congress, not in the climate, to make these agencies clean up their act.
Larry Bell contributes posts at the CFACT site. He heads the graduate program in space architecture at the University of Houston. He founded and directs the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture. He is also the author of “Climate of Corruption: Politics and Power Behind the Global Warming Hoax.”