EPA says change to require efficiency efforts instead of carbon capture will encourage ‘clean coal’ in the US and worldwide
— The Trump administration is rolling back a climate change regulation that restricted new coal plants.
The change is mostly symbolic – but nevertheless sends a strong signal. Companies in the US are not building plants that burn coal because burning natural gas is cheaper and creates less pollution. Renewable power has also eaten into coal’s market share.
But the Obama-era rule for new coal plants has long been a target of the industry. It would have effectively required technology to capture the carbon dioxide that traps heat on earth and causes climate change. That technology is not in use on a commercial scale. A draft replacement rule would allow new coal plants that meet certain efficiency requirements.
The acting Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Andrew Wheeler, said the Obama administration was “disingenuous” when it decided coal-plant carbon capture technologies were adequately demonstrated. He said the change to require efficiency efforts instead of carbon capture will encourage “clean coal” in the US and worldwide through technology exports.
“You will see a decrease in emissions worldwide because of an increase in investments in new energy technologies,” Wheeler argued.
The EPA’s own economic analysis contradicts him. It concludes that the rollback will not do anything to boost coal power in the US because any new fossil fuel plants will burn natural gas, not coal.
Wheeler argued affordable energy benefits low-income people most and invited the National Black Chamber of Commerce to speak as a supporter. Experts say, however, that coal plants are shutting down because they aren’t as affordable as other options.
Michelle Bloodworth, CEO of the coal industry group the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, said ahead of the event that “there is no silver bullet when it comes to developing new coal units in today’s marketplace but in announcing this proposal the EPA has outlined a regulation that both follows the law and allows new more efficient coal plants to be a viable option in the future.”
Nixing the rule could invigorate coal backers worldwide, sending a message to negotiators of an international climate pact in Poland that the US is trying to bolster the future of the fossil fuel. Trump, who has questioned manmade climate change, has said he will exit that pact, the Paris agreement.
David Doniger, a climate director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the move “will be judged harshly by future generations”.
“The science is clear: operating large fossil fuel plants without carbon capture and storage is a disaster for the climate. What we need instead is swift and decisive action to curb dangerous climate change,” Doniger said.
Fifteen health and medical groups, including the American Lung Association, opposed the EPA announcement.
Across the federal government, Trump agencies have sought to slash rules for fossil fuel production and use. The environmental protection agency is also rescinding an Obama rule that aimed to shift the US away from coal use and toward more natural gas and renewable power. And the agency is expected to roll back a standard requiring coal plants to limit their toxic mercury pollution. Many plants shut down in 2015, in part so that they wouldn’t have to spend money to comply with that rule.
This year, coal use in the US is expected to be at its lowest point since 1979, according to the energy information administration. Coal consumption has fallen 44% since its peak in 2007, the agency said.
by Emily Holden | The Guardian