WHEELING - The Obama administration moved forward Tuesday with the first-ever limits on pollution from new power plants, ignoring protests from industry officials and politicians who have said the regulation will raise electricity prices and kill off coal.
While the move makes building any new coal-fired plants very challenging, it could encourage construction of more natural gas-fired plants because they could more easily meet the new standard.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson said Tuesday her organization's new standards will "check the previously uncontrolled amount (of carbon pollution) that power plants ... release into our atmosphere."
Photo by Casey Junkins
American Electric Power’s James E. Pinson pushes coal barges along the Ohio River.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said Jackson and President Barack Obama are "fully engaging in a war on coal, even though this country will continue to rely on coal as an affordable, stable and abundant energy source for decades to come."
"This is what happens when this country doesn't have a true all-of-the-above energy approach. Instead of trying to completely eliminate coal in the long-term, the EPA should be trying to work with industry," Manchin continued, adding that the "ill-advised" proposal would move the country away from using "all" domestic energy sources.
Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, an advocacy group determined to stop coal-fired power, called the EPA's action "a strong move."
"It means there will never be another coal plant built without new technology, and it probably means even those won't be built because they can't compete," he said.
The regulation, which was due to be released last July but has been stuck at the White House since November, stemmed from a settlement with environmental groups and states.
Regulations from the EPA to control pollution blowing downwind and toxic emissions from power plants have helped push some into retirement, causing Republicans in Congress and on the campaign trail to claim the agency will cause blackouts. On Tuesday, GOP leaders again accused the administration of clamping down on cheap, home-grown sources of energy and said the regulation raised questions about the sincerity of Obama's pledge for an "all-of-the-above" energy policy.
In relation to the new rule, AEP already announced plans to close the coal-fired Kammer Plant, south of Moundsville, by the end of 2014 - a move officials said will cost about 60 jobs.
However, AEP spokes-man Pat D. Hemlepp said the new EPA rules will not necessarily cause electricity rates to skyrocket.
"The proposed greenhouse gas rule is for new sources, so it doesn't apply to any existing American Electric Power generating units and has no immediate impact on customers," he said. "Our concern is that EPA is making national energy policy through the development of environmental standards that force generators to select a single source of fuel."
"This proposed new rule, when coupled with the stringent standards for new sources recently established by EPA in the Mercury & Air Toxics Standards rule, makes it extremely difficult to plan or develop new coal plants in the United States," Hemlepp added.
AEP serves the Upper Ohio Valley in eastern Ohio, as well as Marshall and Ohio counties in West Virginia. FirstEnergy Corp. serves Hancock, Brooke, Wetzel and Tyler counties.
"This rulemaking should not have a near-term impact on FirstEnergy but may ultimately lead to future CO2 standards impacting our existing coal-fired units if modified or reconstructed," said spokesman Mark Durbin.
"This approach relies totally on cheap natural gas and we've seen that bubble burst before," Manchin said regarding natural gas prices that tumbled to near the $2 mark per 1,000 cubic feet Tuesday. "It might sound good now, but what happens if those prices go up? Your average hard-working families and manufacturers will be left holding the bag of uncertainty - either in the prices they pay or in the reliability of our electrical system."