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Trump EPA’s Proposed Revision to New Power Plant Carbon Dioxide Standards is Worse than Business as Usual

December 6, 2018 Work Area: Power Plants

The best performing coal plants today capture and store their carbon emissions. During the Obama Administration, EPA recognized this by setting performance standards for new coal plants based on the reductions that can be achieved through partial carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology. Earlier this year, Congress passed tax incentives to support companies that build such plants.

Yet, today’s proposal by the Trump EPA seeks to turn the clock to back to an era when even the newest coal plants were dirty and inefficient. Today’s proposal would set the emissions standard for carbon pollution at a level that was current for new coal plants decades ago. “The Trump Administration, in its latest attempt to ‘Make Coal Great Again’ is declaring that uncontrolled, inefficient coal technology that was current 30 years ago represents the state of the art for new coal plants today,” said Jay Duffy of the Clean Air Task Force. “The emission rate EPA is proposing today is nearly 20 percent higher than that of new coal plants being built around the world today,” he said.

In fact, even the 2015 studies EPA relies on in this proposal estimate that a state-of-the-art U.S. coal plant, without carbon capture controls, would emit 1,618-1,683 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour (MWh). Yet, EPA’s proposed “standard” would allow a brand-new plant of the same kind to emit 1,900-2,200 pounds of CO2 per MWh.

Carbon capture technology has become even more available and affordable each year since it formed the basis of the standard that EPA now seeks to weaken. The Clean Air Act requirement that EPA must accelerate the use of the very best means of reducing pollution, means that any new standard must be more health and environmentally protective than the existing rules. Today’s proposal completely abrogates EPA’s obligation and instead allows new coal plants to emit more CO2 than would be the case with no standard in place at all.

“No new uncontrolled coal plants should be built in the U.S., period,” said John Thompson, Technology and Markets Director at Clean Air Task Force. “While no new coal plants are currently proposed for the U.S., over 1,300 new coal plants are currently being built or planned, most in the developing world. If we are to have any hope of stemming the worst effects of climate change, then the U.S. must not abrogate its leadership role in commercializing CCS technology so that it can be deployed globally,” he said.

For every MWh of coal-fired electricity generated, EPA is proposing to allow about 300 pounds of CO2 beyond what is permitted under the current regulations. EPA’s own analysis shows that a hypothetical 600 MW power plant would emit 1.1 million tons of CO2 (and 500 additional tons of health-harming sulfur dioxide pollution) more per year than it is now permitted to emit. EPA’s action invites the construction of new uncontrolled coal plants – which have had lifetimes of over 40 years, historically.

This move away from environmental and public health protections by EPA is unfathomable, particularly when report after report – including most recently, one issued by this very Agency – warns that climate change is driving many of the public health consequences of the natural disasters we see across the country, and that time is running out for effective action. According to the IPCC, uncontrolled coal-fired power plants must be phased out by 2040, and the remaining 210 GW must be equipped with CCS, if we are to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

“EPA’s proposed deregulatory ‘standard’ not only fails to impose the ‘best’ system of carbon dioxide emission reduction, it will have significant negative consequences for American’s health and welfare,” said Duffy.

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