EPA’s New Power Plan Rule Stacks the Deck for Coal

August 22, 2018

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced this week a rollback and replacement plan for the Clean Power Plan, with the ill-fitting name of the Affordable Clean Energy rule. The Clean Power Plan was adopted under the Obama administration as a substantial step forward in managing our largest source of pollution and greenhouse gases, our power plant fleet. It is clear that the rollback and replacement rule is not about clean energy, nor will it make the cost of energy any more affordable.

AMC’s monitoring of air quality in the northern Appalachians has demonstrated how strong clean air rules can decrease air pollution in mountain environments.  We supported the Clean Power Plan as an important method of gaining similar reductions in greenhouse gases.

Here are some highlights of our initial review of the EPA’s rollback and replacement rule:

The tune-up of old coal plants is a bad investment.

Just like old inefficient cars need to be retired eventually so do old power plants. But EPA wants to extend the life of uneconomical and polluting coal plants.  Extending the life of these plants will eventually wipe out and reverse any emission reduction associated with efficiency upgrades; the proposal would even allow already retired coal plants back online. It’s like reversing a plan to buy a new 2018 model car for the inefficient clunker you had back in 1962.

The new rule will likely lead to more pollution.

EPA proposed to only suggest “heat rate” improvements (the amount of energy input relative to the amount of electricity output) for coal plants. Improving the heat rate is a good thing but the list of options provided by EPA would only make minimal improvements at each power plant. These same plants could then be exempted from the current system of review if they start running more often and emitting more pollution. This means these plants could end up emitting more pollution than they do today and countering any reductions of emissions gained by the improvements in heat rate.

It would leave the states holding a handful of wildcards.

EPA is proposing to abandon its own obligation to set the level of greenhouse gas emission reductions for power plants using the best system, as required by law.  Instead, they propose to let each state set greenhouse gas emission limits for each coal plant in their state. EPA is even considering allowing states to issue weaker standards, or no standards at all, letting antiquated, inefficient coal power plants to continue to emit greenhouse gas pollution with no consequences.  How this proposal will work with states complying with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is unclear.

AMC plans to continue to review the rule in more detail and will look for your help during the public comment period where we must tell EPA to keep the Clean Power Plan and toss out their card tricks and the Affordable Clean Energy Rule.

You can help! Join our Conservation Action Network. We will contact you when the EPA is accepting comments on the repeal and rollback plan, providing you with talking points and a template letter to submit on the docket.

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Georgia Murray

Conservation and Nature Notes blogger Georgia Murray has been AMC's Air Quality Staff Scientist since 2000. She has an M.S. degree in Earth Sciences from the University of New Hampshire and currently oversees the AMC's air quality and climate monitoring programs.