HAZARD – Coal industry supporters are crying foul over the Environmental Protection Agency’s latest round of regulations aimed at reducing air pollution, saying they will lead to a steep drop off of coal–fired plants, and thus jobs in Eastern Kentucky. The EPA, on the other hand, says the new rules will help reduce carbon pollution, which is widely accepted as one of the main factors in global climate change.
The EPA released the new regulations on March 27, which provide standards for carbon emissions from the nation’s power plants. Under this plan, plants will be required to emit no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour. According to reports, new coal-fired plants emit between 1,600 and 1,900 pounds. Utilities will be permitted to burn any fossil fuel, such as coal, but will also be required to do so by meeting this new standard.
In part, the new rules call for new coal-burning plants to utilize costly technology that some say will be cost prohibitive in the construction of new coal-fired generation plants. The new rules will not apply to plants already in operation or to new plants that will be built in the next 12 months, only to future plants.
Other EPA rules are already in place, however, that have begun to add cost to companies opting to continue to utilize coal to generate electricity. Kentucky Power Company is currently awaiting approval on a rate hike in order to raise capital to install a scrubber on their coal-fired plant in Louisa, at a cost of roughly $940 million. Without the increase to cover that cost, company officials say they won’t be able to meet government standards and will be forced to shut down the generator and purchase power from the open market.
EPA officials say the standard reflects a trend that private companies are already taking in building the next generation of cleaner generation plants. Administrator Lisa Jackson praised the latest standard in a statement issued last week, saying that it will reduce carbon emissions and lead to a healthier nation, while also tackling the problem now rather than later. The agency noted its authority to regulate these emissions based on a 2007 Supreme Court ruling.
“Today we’re taking a common-sense step to reduce pollution in our air, protect the planet for our children, and move us into a new era of American energy,” Jackson said. “Right now there are no limits to the amount of carbon pollution that future power plants will be able to put into our skies – and the health and economic threats of a changing climate continue to grow. We’re putting in place a standard that relies on the use of clean, American made technology to tackle a challenge that we can’t leave to our kids and grandkids.”
Environmentalists are also praising the standard, noting that it will push utilities to consider generation via fuels that will cause less pollution.
“What this essentially says is we will never be building dirty old coal plants ever again,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, in a report by the Los Angeles Times. “The dominant power source of the 19th and 20th centuries won’t be the same again.”
Several utilities have already moved to cleaner natural gas for future generation, citing the fuel’s lower cost. As a result, several coal companies in central Appalachia have already issued hundreds of layoffs, including here in Perry County. Some opponents say this new standard will push even more utilities to natural gas in the coming years.
Steve Miller, president and CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, claimed in a statement that EPA regulations are “responsible for the announced closure of more than 140 electricity generating units in 19 states,” and this new standard could add to those numbers.
“This is another, in a series of new regulations, written by EPA to prevent the U.S. from taking advantage of our vast coal resources that are responsible for providing affordable electricity for America’s families and businesses,” Miller said. “This latest rule will make it impossible to build any new coal-fueled power plants, and could cause the premature closure of many more coal-fueled power plants operating today.”
The EPA says this new standard will allow utilities that have moved to natural gas to continue to operate without any additional add-ons, which in turn should not add cost. But for companies that plan to utilize coal, much of which is mined here in central Appalachia, especially in Eastern Kentucky, that added technology will come with a cost, opponents claim, and this new standard simply furthers what they say is the EPA’s stranglehold on the coal industry.
Haven King, who serves as director of the pro-coal lobby Coal Mining Our Future, said this new rule will effectively prevent any future coal plants from being built because technology such as carbon capture isn’t economically feasible at present. In turn, he added that will reduce the amount of coal that utilities require to power the nation, in effect harming the economy of Eastern Kentucky.
“If they enforce the new regulations, it will take a little bit, but there will be no more coal-fired plants because of policy, and not by law,” King said, adding that EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is merely following through on what he said is President Barack Obama’s policy of shutting down the coal industry.
“That’s her job from President Obama,” King said. “Her job is to shut down coal mining. I’ve been saying this for three years. That’s her job, that’s her objective.”
Sen. Rand Paul, R—Bowling Green, said a statement last week that the EPA’s latest standard will increase costs to consumers, cut jobs, and limit the country’s energy choices.
“The Obama EPA’s proposed energy mandate effectively bans new coal plants and reflects their ongoing war on American energy manufacturers and the American consumer,” Sen. Paul said. “This new rule from Washington will cost Americans more at the pump, more on their utility bill, and for some, it will cost them their jobs and their livelihoods. It will undoubtedly have a chilling effect on coal power plants across Kentucky and the country – severely limiting our energy choices rather than fulfilling the all-of-the-above energy approach President Obama has touted. I will continue my fight to rein in the overzealous agenda of the Obama Administration and the EPA.”
And for now, opponents say, the economy of Kentucky will suffer due to a lack of demand for coal mined in the state, and as power rates increase job providers who had relied on cheaper electricity will be looking elsewhere to do business.
“You’ve not seen anything yet,” King remarked. “There are not hundreds of jobs, there are thousands of jobs already lost, and they are not coming back. And you’ll see more.”