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Category — Coal Regulation

The Coal Train Steams Forward

“But for all of the jousting here at home over natural gas exports and the virtues (or lack thereof) of renewable energy, the global energy story of today is coal.”

The shale revolution has fundamentally changed the American energy scene. Over the last five years or so, domestic production of oil and gas have soared. And some analysts are claiming that the US oil production could soon surpass that of Saudi Arabia.

As the shale gale rumbles forward, the usual battles over renewable energy are continuing. At the state level, policymakers and lobby groups continue tussling over renewable portfolio standards. At the federal level, the White House continues its mindless support for the corn ethanol scam and Congress continues debating subsidies for wind and solar.

But for all of the jousting here at home over natural gas exports and the virtues (or lack thereof) of renewable energy, the global energy story of today is coal.

 The latest example of that: On Monday, energy consulting firm Wood Mackenzie projected that China will fall far short of its plans to build 200 gigawatts of new nuclear capacity by 2030. The result: coal will continue its dominant role in China’s electricity generation sector and will account for about 64 percent of the country’s electricity production by 2030. Wood Mackenzie expects that will translate into additional Chinese coal demand of 55 million tons per year by 2030.

Indeed, the soaring use of coal exposes the provincialism – or maybe it’s the willful ignorance — of US policymakers and environmental groups when it comes to the issue of climate change. Back in March, Senate Democrats held an all-night climate-change talkathon.

The Democrats’ all-nighter, which was quarterbacked by Rhode Island’s Sheldon Whitehouse and the newly formed Senate Climate Action Task Force, kept the Senate open for only the 35th all-night session since 1915. It gained coverage from all the major media outlets. During the tag-team filibuster, Al Franken of Minnesota said “we don’t need to just talk, we need to take action.”

Franken’s fellow Democrats provided similar sound bites. Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal declared that climate change is “implacable, relentless and only we can stop it.” But the senators offered no specific plans — nor even any hints — as to what they might propose. There was no talk of carbon taxes, carbon-emission limits, or cap-and-trade. [Read more →]

May 6, 2014   3 Comments

Coal As An Environmental Product (Part II)

“Since 1970, the total emissions of the six criteria pollutants have declined by 68 percent, even though energy consumption has increased by 45 percent, vehicle miles traveled have increased by 167 percent, and the economy has grown by 212 percent…. As technology continues to advance, coal-fired power plants will become even cleaner and air quality will continue to improve. “

Coal, which until recently produced 50 percent of the nation’s electricity, has been losing market share to lower-cost natural gas and mandated, highly subsidized renewable energy. Anti-coal environmental regulation has also figured into the decline. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has essentially banned new coal plants and made its continued use in existing plants extremely costly. As a result, coal produced only 37 percent of our electricity in 2012.

One of the biggest stated concerns about coal is air pollution. Coal produces more emissions than natural gas when burned. However, due to actions taken by industry and technological advances, our air quality is improving and new coal plants are cleaner than ever before.

Pollution control technologies such as flue gas desulfurization, selective catalytic reducers, fabric filters, and dry sorbent injection have greatly reduced coal plant emissions. [For a description of an in-service, low-emission, state-of-the-art coal plant, see here.] [Read more →]

July 10, 2013   3 Comments

Coal Ash Regulation: Another Front on the ‘War Against Coal’

“For three years the Environmental Protection Agency has imposed a de facto ban on new coal-fired power while doing everything it can to harm existing coal plants.”

- Killing Coal,” Wall Street Journal, April 5, 2012.

Unhappy with the speed of EPA regulation of coal combustion by-products, a number of environmental organizations recently filed a lawsuit to force EPA to finalize regulation of coal ash.

A natural byproduct of the combustion process for coal-fired power plants, coal ash is typically stored onsite at power plants or sold on the open market for use in the production of concrete and other materials. In 2010, EPA proposed a pair of regulatory approaches for dealing with coal ash, but has to yet to decide how to regulate the material.

Nearly a dozen groups were party to the lawsuit, including the Sierra Club, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, and the Environmental Integrity Project. 1 The lawsuit comes just days after the EPA announced plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector, which the New York Times characterized as EPA’s movement toward “closing out the era of old-fashioned coal-burning power generation.” So much for Obama’s all-of-the-above energy policy.

Perils of Coal Ash as Hazardous Waste

In its lawsuit, the plaintiffs claim that EPA is violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) by not including coal ash among the substances it regulates. The organizations are demanding that EPA regulate coal ash under Subtitle C of the RCRA, the title that deals with hazardous waste. A superior option being explored by EPA would regulate coal ash under Subtitle D of the RCRA, allowing states to adopt rules at their own discretion.

It is no surprise that groups with a stated mission of shutting down our nation’s use of coal for electricity would file such a lawsuit, because they understand that coal ash regulations present huge financial and logistical burdens for utilities. The problem is these organizations have no real solutions for keeping the lights on and power bills affordable. [Read more →]

April 16, 2012   6 Comments

Four Regulatory Fronts Against Coal Power (after the defeat of cap-and-trade)

Can the Republican House neuter the Obama Administration’s war against coal-fired power plants? I’m not optimistic, but coal is an plentiful, improving resource that will be hard to put and keep in the energy cellar.

The coal industry has been fighting on five key regulatory fronts during the past two years. The good news is that cap-and-trade of carbon dioxide (CO2), a back door energy tax, is defeated. The subject is kryptonite in Washington among Republicans and a surprising number of Democrats–and rightly so.

Cap-and-trade was defeated despite the clever Administration strategy to bribe stakeholders by making their support of the American Power Act economically worthwhile. Several major utilities (especially those with nuclear plants), most equipment manufacturers that sell to the industry, and even the Edison Electric Institute lined up in support of cap-and-trade legislation.

I was especially amused by the strong support from nuclear utilities—I’m sure it had nothing to do with the formula for allocating allowances that would have given them a windfall of hundreds of millions of dollars over time for sitting quietly on the sidelines. Thankfully, the Senate euthanized that legislation before it got much traction.

The Big Regulatory Four

Legislative control of CO2 is closed, perhaps for a decade or more, but this battle hardly ended the conflict. Instead, the Executive Branch has sidestepped Congress to put its full weight behind the regulate-to-death option. There are four fronts: [Read more →]

February 15, 2011   8 Comments