Cutting carbon emissions from coal-fueled power plants is a central part of President Obama’s Climate Change Action Plan to reduce total U.S. carbon pollution by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. Needless to say, the coal industry has been none too pleased to find itself targeted as the U.S.’s dirtiest energy source and Big Coal is gearing up to fight against the new pollution limits.
Coal is the source of one-third of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency would limit power plant’s emissions even more by enforcing regulations in a little-known part of the 1970 Clean Air Act, section 111d, which allows the agency to both develop and implement regulations about specific types of pollutants, including sulfuric acid manufacturers, landfills, waste incinerators and power plants.
Under the E.P.A.’s new regulations, the construction of new power plants would be halted and more than 500 coal-powered plants in operation could be shut down, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
Big Coal Prepares to Fight Against Fighting Pollution
As with any new law or policy before it goes into effect, an extensive rule making process must be carried out, as John Light writes on What Matters Today on Bill Moyers’ website. The coal industry has been readying itself to extend this process as long as possible and weaken the regulations by “inundating the EPA with comments, analyses, legal opinions and technical documents, and picking apart its draft plans.” Coal companies are also seeking to influence other federal agencies to take their side by conducting a “scorched-earth strategy infused with aid from allies in Congress.”
Such elaborate efforts are expected and are just part of a “time-honored tradition in Washington.” Light describes how, via comment letters and litigation, Wall Street and the banking and financial industries played a part in making sure that it took as long as possible to implement the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the law written to “reign in the risky banking behaviors that led to the 2007-2008 financial crisis and caused our ongoing international economic woes today.”
As a result, stricter regulation of banking practices has been drastically slowed down, at the same time as the banking industry is poised to become the most profitable in the United States.
Some States Rely Heavily on Coal, Some Not At All
Another obstacle to implementing the E.P.A.’s CO2 rules is at the state level. While ten states including California have instituted cap-and-trade programs to lower emissions and thirty states and the District of Columbia have put renewable portfolio standards in place, some states still get all of their electricity from coal-fired power plants. Texas is the largest carbon emitter in the country; Oklahoma relies about half on coal and half on natural gas for its energy.
Recognizing that there is indeed a “diversity in state fuels,” Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, argues that it’s still necessary for the E.P.A. to have some kind of ”minimum verification procedure.” Rather than only penalizing coal-fired plants, all power plants could be tasked with lowering their emissions, researchers from Resources for the Future suggest.
Industry lawyers contend that states can be as “stringent — or lax — as they choose” in implementing the EPA’s regulations.
That is the case. But it’s also more than evident that coal and CO2 emissions have detrimental effects on air quality, our health, the climate, the environment and wildlife. While power plants fueled by coal generated 50 percent of the United States’ electricity in 2005, that figure is now down to about 40 percent of the United States’ electricity, and that in less than a decade. There are renewable sources of energy and we can certainly get more than the current 12 percent that we do from them by lessening our dependence on coal and natural gas.
Big Coal isn’t exactly hurting: while coal power fewer and fewer plants in the United States, the coal industry exported 126 million short tons last year. There’s no shortage of overseas markets (such as China) for U.S. coal. We don’t need the 2.2 billion tons of CO2 emissions that come from existing power plants and we can’t let the coal industry play the bully and weaken the E.P.A.’s new, more than needed anti-pollution regulations.
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