Senate Democrats Urge Obama to Amend EPA’s GHG Rules for New Coal Plants

In a letter to President Obama last week, four Senate Democrats expressed "continued concern" about the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) plans to issue greenhouse gas (GHG) new source performance standard (NSPS) rules for new fossil fuel-fired power plants. The proposed rules could ban "new state-of-the-art" plants from being built and hamper advancements that could benefit the nation’s coal power sector, the senators argued.

The letter from moderate Democrats , Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.), contends that as proposed, the EPA’s new GHG standard could require coal-fired plants to meet the same standards as gas-fired plants. “Such a requirement is unprecedented under the Clean Air Act and will have the unfortunate effect of preventing the construction of new coal plants or the upgrading of existing sources,” the group wrote. “We urge you to consider an alternative approach.”

The senators called on the president to urge the EPA to amend the rule and differentiate standards based on fuel type, an option available to the EPA. One way would be to establish supercritical coal generation technology as the performance standard for new coal-based electricity. "Such an amendment will reduce GHG emissions, while also creating new jobs and strengthening the economy," they wrote.

The EPA had been expected to issue its final NSPS standards for GHG emissions by the end of this month, but the agency has reportedly said it would delay its schedule as a result of a recent assessment of current EPA resources. Industry observers allege that the administration wants to put the issue on the back burner until after the confirmation hearing for EPA Administrator-nominee Gina McCarthy, or to delay them until next year, when standards for both old and new power plants could be combined into one new regulation.

Sen. Manchin said in a statement that the EPA’s proposed rule was another example of "EPA overreach" by the Obama administration. Though the letter made no comparable claim, the senators said consequences from the rule could "actually block GHG emissions reductions, endanger our electricity supply, and harm our economy."

New coal plants–such as American Electric Power’s ultrasupercritical Turk Plant, which came online in Arkansas last December–were already using technologies "for revolutionary advancements in power plant efficiency and reduced CO2 levels," the senators said in their letter to the president. "If the proposed NSPS are adopted, they will have the effect of preventing existing sources from making upgrades that will improve efficiency, allowing for more electricity generation with less fuel and fewer emissions."

Sources: POWERnews, Sen. Manchin, EPA

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