David Bier: EPA Announces the Coal Industry’s Death

“This was the moment,” candidate Obamaproclaimed after winning his party’s nomination, “when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” When he assumed office, President Obama attempted to act on that promise and regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

On June 26, 2009, the House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act (Waxman-Markey Bill). In the words of The New York Times, “The vote was the first time either house of Congress had approved a bill meant to curb the heat-trapping gases scientists have linked to climate change.”

But in June 2010, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced the Senate would not vote on the bill. “We know where we are,” Reid said, “We know that we don’t have the votes.” President Obama’s bid to become the first president to directly limit greenhouse gas emissions failed—he didn’t have the votes, he couldn’t change the law, right? Wrong. On December 7, 2009 (yeah, yeah, “the day that will live in infamy”), the Environmental Protection Agency announced its intention to regulate GHGs anyway, even without a law that “either house of Congress had approved meant to curb” GHGs.

On that day, EPA found that GHGs endanger human health and welfare, and therefore, could be regulated under the Clean Air Act (CAA) of 1972. Sadly for EPA, this regulatory action leads to clearly absurd results. According to the letter of the law, EPA would have to process over 6 million operating permits for stationary sources each year—400 times the current amount. This inconvenient truth didn’t, however, make EPA reconsider whether the CAA was ever intended to regulate GHGs. Rather, EPA decided to simply “tailor” the Act on their own—that is, amend Congressional legislation without Congress’s approval—to target only those environmental “criminals” it wanted.

Today, EPA released its first GHG regulation for coal-fired power plants. As Politico reports, “The standard will generally require that new power plants emit CO2 at a rate no greater than that of a natural-gas-fired power plant. Such plants emit about 60 percent less greenhouse gases than coal plants. The only coal plant to break ground during the Obama administration is a carbon capture and sequestration plant — Southern Co.’s Kemper County plant in Mississippi.” And that’s federally-subsidized.

The Washington Post adds, “The move could end the construction of conventional coal-fired facilities in the United States… ‘This standard effectively bans new coal plants,’ said Joseph Stanko, who heads government relations at the law firm Hunton and Williams and represents several utility companies. “So I don’t see how that is an ‘all of the above’ energy policy.’”

This rule is part of a larger group of regulations (Utility MACTClean Water Act StandardsCoal Ash, and others) that target coal-fired power plants, and it’s causing the slow-death of coal in the United States. As the Post reports, “utility companies have announced that they plan to shut down more than 300 boilers, representing more than 42 gigawatts of electricity generation — nearly 13 percent of the nation’s coal-fired electricity— rather than upgrade them with pollution-control technology.”

While there’s no evidence that this was the moment that will slow the rise of the oceans—EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has conceded that EPA’s climate regulations won’t actually have a discernible impact on the climate–there is plenty of evidence that this will be the moment when the president destroyed the coal industry.

Cooler Heads

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