While campaigning in San Francisco in early 2008 during the Democratic primaries, Barack Obama got a little too candid. “So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can,” he opined to the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board. “It’s just that it will bankrupt them because they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.”
Waxman-Markey: Never Forget
Elected, President Obama tried to keep his promise by way of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (aka Waxman-Markey, H.R. 2454), which narrowly passed the House in June 2009 by a vote of 219 to 212.
Among the many features in the 1,437-page bill, cap-and-trade of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions was designed to price (cap-and-tax, to critics) and thus reduce such emissions down to 17 percent of the 2005 level by 2050.
Per capita CO2 emissions were last at this level around the end of the U.S. Civil War.
There was considerable outcry against the Waxman-Markey Bill when the House recessed that August, and leaders of the Senate decided not to consider the bill. After November 2010 election losses, Democrat Senate leaders told President Obama cap-and-trade was dead. President Obama responded by saying that “cap-and-trade was just one way of skinning the cat.”
From that point, the cat was slowly skinned by regulations from the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to limit emissions, such as mercury, from electric power plants. The skinning was completed March 27, 2012, when EPA announced its proposed First Carbon Pollution Standards for Future Power Plants. The press release had little media attention due to ongoing U. S. Supreme Court’s hearings on the constitutionality of ObamaCare.
THE IMPORTANCE OF CARBON DIOXIDE
The proposed standards are attempts to limit carbon dioxide releases from future electricity generating plants due to EPA’s misguided attempts to declare carbon dioxide a pollutant. Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring gas essential for sustaining life on this planet. All annual emitted sources of carbon dioxide exceed 800 billion tons. Carbon dioxide emitted by U. S. power plants is less than 3 billion tons (about one-third of one percent of the total).
CO2 atmospheric concentrations have increased from 280 parts per million in 1800 to 395 parts per million in 2012. Past history shows carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere as high as 6,000 parts per million. Those who work in agriculture know increased atmospheric carbon dioxide the past 60 years has increased plant growth and provided better resistance of crops to water shortages. The CO2 fertilization effect is not part of the alarmist litany.
THE PROPOSED STANDARD
A five-page summary of the EPA’s First Proposed Carbon Pollution Standards for Future Power Plants explains that no new power plants with capacities exceeding 25 MW can produce more than one pound of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour produced.
This requirement eliminates coal as an electric generating source without carbon capture and storage (CCS). To date CCS has not been accomplished on a large scale. If it is done, electricity costs are dramatically increased with wasted extra coal use and storage of an important life-support material.
The standard permits natural gas use provided conversion efficiencies of energy to electricity is at least 47 percent. Gas turbine combined cycles (GTCC) achieve these efficiencies. GTCC is burning methane as a fuel for gas turbines and then taking hot turbine exhaust gases to produce steam for steam turbines. This is routinely done with large natural gas-fueled power plants.
Oil can be used as a fuel for GTCC; however, the efficiency has to increase to 53 percent, which is a challenge.
A question arises as to how this standard interacts with solar and wind electric facilities. Both of these renewable energy forms have almost instantaneous rises and falls in power generation due to the passing of clouds, morning and evening changes solar output changes, and wind variability. Fast responding backup electricity sources are needed to keep electricity generation uniform. Gas turbines, kept in rotating standby operation, match these changes. However, gas turbines come nowhere close to meeting EPA carbon pollution standards. Using CTCC power plants for renewable energy backup may not meet EPA requirements.
Most of the country has no idea of the impact of this carbon pollution standard, which is a start to phasing out fossil fuel use. This rule alone causes future dramatic increases in electricity costs because eventually all coal-fired power plants are phased out and cheap, abundant coal is eliminated as an energy source. Hardships are created as citizens struggle to pay their power bills and all businesses are negatively affected with many leaving the country to relocate to areas with cheaper electricity costs.
The country’s economy is somewhat fragile at this time. Great hope for the future lies in the vast, abundant fossil fuel resources recently found and being developed. It is almost laughable that new EPA pollution standards render much of these new energy resources unusable.
“Tyranny by Regulation”: Avoid the Slippery Slope
This EPA carbon pollution standard is the first standard. The EPA has implemented standards in the past and then tightened standards like reducing ozone from 75 parts per billion to 60 parts per billion. All it takes is reducing the carbon dioxide output from one pound per kilowatt-hour to 0.8 pounds per kilowatt-hour to eliminate all fossil fuels from electric power production.
If this standard prevails, more will follow until all fossil fuel use is prohibited. After fossil fuels are eliminated, the next energy source for elimination is nuclear power. With solar, wind, and biofuels as energy resources, the United States is reduced to an economy and lifestyle similar to the late nineteenth century.
The American people should not accept this tyranny by regulation. Proposing this regulation is an insult to our intelligence. Hundreds of millions of dollars will have to be spent trying to overturn the regulation, but, if reason prevails, the effort should be successful.
If we go back in time four score years, public apathy allowed the Third Reich to arise from a minor political party to governing Germany by 1933. At the end of the war, an anti-Nazi survivor Pastor Martin Niemoller was asked how could those past events happened. He is reported to have said these immortal words that describe the rewards of complacency.
“First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I was not a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I was not trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”
Applied to carbon-based energy in our time, Pastor Niemoller’s words can be paraphrased to EPA’s anti-carbon-crusade rules:
First they closed the coal mines, and I didn’t speak out because I was not a miner.
Then they stopped oil and natural gas drilling, and I did not speak out because I did not work in the oil and gas industry.
Then they shut down the nuclear power plants, and I did not speak out because I didn’t work at at a nuclear power plant.
Then they shut off all my electricity, and there was no one left to speak out for me.
Heed these words of the past. The EPA is working on a path to ruin the United States one dense energy at a time. Saving coal from regulatory ruin will save oil and natural gas and ensure the continuing robust energy era that is still young. Wind, solar, and ethanol, after all, just cannot substitute for modern society.
James H. Rust is a retired nuclear engineering professor with over fifty year experience in areas related to energy policy.