The EPA as Energy Master

Photo Credit: National Review

Photo Credit: National Review

The imperial EPA has once again raised its scepter, this time proposing the first hard caps on carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants. The proposed coal rule merits a deeper assessment than it has yet received. The impacts of this and other EPA rules targeting coal go far beyond the coal industry. The EPA is undermining the very foundations of economic productivity.

The EPA’s first group of greenhouse-gas rules, which were hastily promulgated in 2010, require only a relatively light increase in the burden placed on power plants for the purpose of increasing energy efficiency, for now. By contrast, the coal rules proposed on September 20 — called New Source Performance Standards — are the EPA’s first direct regulation of carbon dioxide (CO2). The rule’s numerical limits for emissions of CO2 from any new coal-fired power plants are commercially unachievable and lay the groundwork for the final blow to coal: the future demand for an impossible reduction of CO2 from existing power plants. In essence, the EPA is proposing the de facto elimination of the coal-fired plants that have provided 40 percent of America’s electricity over the last twelve months.

The EPA’s standards for coal plants are unachievable because use of the much-ballyhooed technology called carbon capture and storage (CCS) is infeasible on a large scale. The EPA’s own studies agree that CCS is not commercially viable. But never mind, says the EPA, CCS has been adequately demonstrated.

No one in the business of generating electricity believes CCS is anywhere near commercially demonstrated — no one, that is, who hasn’t just received a federal loan guarantee of half a billion dollars. Several heavily subsidized small pilot projects already have failed miserably, and the remaining projects, supported by more of those millions in loan guarantees and grants, are incomplete without evidence of viability. When a carbon-control technology must utilize 50 percent of the electricity generated by the plant, the enterprise simply is not viable.

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