EPA: We're Wounding Coal, Not Killing It

The agency predicts new emissions rules will shutter some coal plants, but the fossil fuel will remain a big part of the nation's energy mix.

The smoke stacks at American Electric Power's (AEP) Mountaineer coal power plant in New Haven, West Virginia, October 30, 2009. In cooperation with AEP, the French company Alstom unveiled the world's largest carbon capture facility at a coal plant, so called 'clean coal,' which will store around 100,000 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide a year 2.1 kilometers (7,200 feet) underground.  (National Journal)

The Environmental Protection Agency's proposed carbon-emissions rules for power plants would close a number of coal plants nationwide, but it would hardly wipe out the fuel source entirely, the agency says.

EPA forecasts that in 2030 — the year by which the rules would require the full carbon cuts to be achieved — 30 percent of the nation's electric power will come from coal. That's down from 39 percent in 2013, according to federal Energy Information Administration figures.

The proposed rules, released Monday, seek to cut power-plant carbon emissions by 30 percent from their 2005 levels by 2030.

Coal's market share has already declined in recent years due to competitive natural-gas prices, separate EPA rules to cut other pollutants, the growth of renewable-energy sources, and other factors.

Here's a key paragraph from the agency's regulatory analysis released Monday alongside the rule: "Relative to the base case, about 30 to 49 GW of coal-fired capacity is projected to be uneconomic to maintain (about 12 percent to 19 percent of all coal-fired capacity projected to be in service in the base case) by 2020 under the range of scenarios analyzed."

And here's a key forecast in the rule itself: "EPA projects coal production for use by the power sector, a large component of total coal production, will decline by roughly 25 to 27 percent in 2020 from base case levels. The use of coal by the power sector will decrease roughly 30 to 32 percent in 2030."

(Wonky side note: EPA's "base case" doesn't include a major Obama administration rule to cut soot- and smog-forming power-plant pollution that blows across state lines. The Supreme Court upheld that rule in late April, but too late for EPA's modeling, so they're modeling a less-aggressive, Bush-era version of that rule.)

Republicans and some industry groups have cast Obama's climate agenda as a "war on coal." EPA's regulation seeks to rebut those claims, saying essentially that plenty of other factors are creating headwinds for the fuel.

"The way that power is produced, distributed, and used is already changing due to advancements in innovative power-sector technologies and in the availability and cost of low carbon fuel, renewable energy, and energy efficient demand-side technologies, as well as economic conditions," the rule states.

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4991) }}