US House passes bill to rein-in EPA GHG caps on coal power

06 March 2014 22:24  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--The US House on Thursday approved legislation to roll back the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new restrictions on coal-fired electric power generation with a party-line vote that was hailed by industry and business interests.

With a vote of 229 to 183, the full House advanced HR-3826, the “Electricity Security and Affordability Act”, taking aim at the EPA’s pending new restrictions of emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHG) by any new US electric power generating plants.

That proposed regulation would set a limit of 1,000lb (454kg) of carbon dioxide emissions per gigawatt hour (GWh) for planned electric utilities powered by natural gas, and a cap of 1,100lb/GWh for any power plant using coal.

But many critics of the pending rule argue that the EPA’s standards would be impossible to meet, noting that even the most efficient coal-fired power plant in operation has emissions of around 1,900lb/GWh, and that most existing coal-burning utilities have CO2 outputs that are nearly twice the EPA’s target cap.

Consequently, the EPA’s critics contend that the agency simply is seeking to force coal out of the US power generation fuel mix.

While the proposed rule imposes the 1,100 lb/GWh limit only on coal-fired utilities yet to be built, the EPA also is developing a similar proposed regulation governing existing power plants.

Industry officials, including those among the US chemicals sector, have expressed concern that the EPA rules governing new and eventually existing coal-fired power plants would effectively shut down those facilities, taking a major portion of electric generating capacity offline and forcing prices up sharply in coming years. 

The EPA argued in its proposal that new coal-fired power plants could meet its emissions limits by employing carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology, contending that such technology has been adequately demonstrated.

But the bill approved on Thursday sides with critics of the proposed the EPA emissions rule, noting that except for three government-supported CCS trial projects, carbon capture and sequestration does not exist as an established, commercial scale technology.

HR-3826 would essentially void the EPA rule, instead requiring the agency to set emissions standards for any new coal-fired power plant based on currently available and proven emissions capture or scrubbing processes.

National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) president Jay Timmons hailed the House action on Thursday, saying that the vote “is a critical step toward ensuring manufacturers have access to affordable and reliable energy to remain competitive in a global economy”.

NAM and the US Chamber of Commerce co-chair an energy consumers’ alliance called the Partnership for a Better Energy Future, which includes a number of US chemical and fuels industry member firms and trade associations.

“We hope that the Senate will act quickly to pass this bill and require the EPA to adhere to a true ‘all-of-the-above’ energy strategy,” Timmons said.

While the bill did pass the House with bipartisan backing, it got only narrow support from among House Democrats. Of the 229 representatives voting in favour, only 10 were Democrats.

This suggests that HR-3826 will face an uphill challenge in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

However, there are a number of Democrat senators up for re-election in November who represent coal-mining or coal-dependent states and who might join Senate Republicans to pass the measure.

Paul Hodges studies key influences shaping the chemical industry in Chemicals and the Economy

By: Joe Kamalick
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