EPA: We’re Wounding Coal, Not Killing It

The agency predicts new emissions rules will shutter some coal plants, but the fossil fuel will remain a big part of the nation’s energy mix.

The smoke stacks at American Electric Power's (AEP) Mountaineer coal power plant in New Haven, West Virginia, October 30, 2009. In cooperation with AEP, the French company Alstom unveiled the world's largest carbon capture facility at a coal plant, so called 'clean coal,' which will store around 100,000 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide a year 2.1 kilometers (7,200 feet) underground. 
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Ben Geman
June 2, 2014, 7:22 a.m.

The En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency’s pro­posed car­bon-emis­sions rules for power plants would close a num­ber of coal plants na­tion­wide, but it would hardly wipe out the fuel source en­tirely, the agency says.

EPA fore­casts that in 2030 — the year by which the rules would re­quire the full car­bon cuts to be achieved — 30 per­cent of the na­tion’s elec­tric power will come from coal. That’s down from 39 per­cent in 2013, ac­cord­ing to fed­er­al En­ergy In­form­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion fig­ures.

The pro­posed rules, re­leased Monday, seek to cut power-plant car­bon emis­sions by 30 per­cent from their 2005 levels by 2030.

Coal’s mar­ket share has already de­clined in re­cent years due to com­pet­it­ive nat­ur­al-gas prices, sep­ar­ate EPA rules to cut oth­er pol­lut­ants, the growth of re­new­able-en­ergy sources, and oth­er factors.

Here’s a key para­graph from the agency’s reg­u­lat­ory ana­lys­is re­leased Monday along­side the rule: “Re­l­at­ive to the base case, about 30 to 49 GW of coal-fired ca­pa­city is pro­jec­ted to be un­eco­nom­ic to main­tain (about 12 per­cent to 19 per­cent of all coal-fired ca­pa­city pro­jec­ted to be in ser­vice in the base case) by 2020 un­der the range of scen­ari­os ana­lyzed.”

And here’s a key fore­cast in the rule it­self: “EPA pro­jects coal pro­duc­tion for use by the power sec­tor, a large com­pon­ent of total coal pro­duc­tion, will de­cline by roughly 25 to 27 per­cent in 2020 from base case levels. The use of coal by the power sec­tor will de­crease roughly 30 to 32 per­cent in 2030.”

(Wonky side note: EPA’s “base case” doesn’t in­clude a ma­jor Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion rule to cut soot- and smog-form­ing power-plant pol­lu­tion that blows across state lines. The Su­preme Court up­held that rule in late April, but too late for EPA’s mod­el­ing, so they’re mod­el­ing a less-ag­gress­ive, Bush-era ver­sion of that rule.)

Re­pub­lic­ans and some in­dustry groups have cast Obama’s cli­mate agenda as a “war on coal.” EPA’s reg­u­la­tion seeks to re­but those claims, say­ing es­sen­tially that plenty of oth­er factors are cre­at­ing head­winds for the fuel.

“The way that power is pro­duced, dis­trib­uted, and used is already chan­ging due to ad­vance­ments in in­nov­at­ive power-sec­tor tech­no­lo­gies and in the avail­ab­il­ity and cost of low car­bon fuel, re­new­able en­ergy, and en­ergy ef­fi­cient de­mand-side tech­no­lo­gies, as well as eco­nom­ic con­di­tions,” the rule states.


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