Coal backers, lawmakers plan blitz against EPA rules

Source: Manuel Quiñones and Jean Chemnick, E&E reporters • Posted: Monday, October 28, 2013

Pro-coal groups and lawmakers are planning a blitz tomorrow against U.S. EPA rules affecting the industry, particularly a proposal to regulate greenhouse gas emissions for new power plants and another expected to extend such scrutiny to existing generators.

The effort will include hearings, the release of draft legislation and a Capitol Hill rally to highlight the harm they say the rules would do to coal country.

The National Mining Association is helping put on the rally, which will feature a roster of advocates and politicians, like Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) and Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R), starting at 11 a.m. tomorrow.

Groups expect a crowd of at least several thousand people. Boosters like Friends of Coal have spread the word on social media and have promised buses to help take people to the Capitol.

Coinciding with the rally, members of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee will be hearing testimony tomorrow morning from various witnesses on whether technology like carbon capture and sequestration is ready to help coal survive the proposed new standards.

In the afternoon, immediately after the rally is scheduled to end, members of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations are holding another hearing on how the EPA regulations could affect local communities in states that have heavy coal mining and use.

And Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) is expected to introduce legislation today to place new constraints on EPA carbon emission rules for both new and existing power plants (E&E Daily, Oct. 23). Speakers at the rally plan to tout Whitfield’s legislation.

For its part, EPA has said it modified the proposal for new power plants after input from the coal industry and that new standards will provide utilities with regulatory certainty, which is necessary for new technology to thrive.

But tomorrow’s efforts will argue the opposite.

“While technology has facilitated significant reductions in emissions of sulfur, nitrogen, particulates and even carbon, the proposed standards are unattainable given current technology,” Pennsylvania Coal Alliance CEO John Pippy, one of this week’s hearing witnesses, wrote in an op-ed last week. “They will force the closing of half of the country’s coal-fired power plants.”

Science hearing

Two subpanels of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold a hearing tomorrow on the technological feasibility of EPA’s proposal for emissions from new power plants and of upcoming proposals for existing units.

The agency released its proposal for future power plants on Sept. 20, requiring new coal-fired generators to reduce emissions through the use of partial carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.

EPA said in its proposal that the technology is ready to go, pointing to four power plants that it said are moving forward with CCS. One of those, which a subsidiary of Southern Co. is constructing in Kemper County, Miss., is mostly completed. But two other projects EPA named are still in the early stages of development.

In an interview last week on the “PBS NewsHour,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said she was “confident” that the proposal’s CCS requirement is attainable by industry. While CCS is “not without cost,” she said, it is technologically viable and provides a way for coal-fired power plants to survive in a carbon constrained world.

“The three components — capturing the CO2, and making sure that we can transport it and store it — all of those components have been happening for years,” she said. “What we’re talking about here is developing that up to a new level where it’s able to be used in [new] power plants.”

Industry, meanwhile, has expressed dismay that EPA’s revamped proposal included the mandate for CCS, which was also part of its original 2012 proposal, arguing that no power plants are currently operating in the United States that employ the technology.

The requirement will further disadvantage coal compared with natural gas and make it less likely that coal with CCS will ever be deployed, they say.

All these viewpoints are likely to be represented during tomorrow’s hearing of the Science Committee’s Energy and Environment subcommittees. Besides exploring the state of technology, the Science Committee said the hearing would “examine whether the rule promotes or deters technological development and energy leadership.”

The subpanels will hear from Richard Bajura, director of the National Research Center for Coal and Energy at West Virginia University, who testified last year before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on the use of captured CO2 for enhanced oil recovery.

Kurt Waltzer of the Clean Air Task Force is also likely to argue that CCS is commercially viable.

On the other side will be Charles McConnell, a recent former assistant secretary for fossil energy at the Energy Department, who has called CCS a “flawed foundation” for climate policy.

“We’ve got ideas, and we have teacups full of pixie dust sitting around in places that are not ready for commercial production,” McConnell said at a meeting last year of the National Coal Council, an advisory group to DOE (Greenwire, June 22, 2012).

Also testifying will be Roger Martella, who represents industry clients for Sidley Austin LLP. Martella has argued that EPA will have a hard time justifying its conclusion that CCS meets the Clean Air Act’s specifications for best available control technology for coal-fired power plants. He has said the mandate is likely to be a legal liability (Greenwire, Oct. 3).

Energy and Commerce hearing

While the Science subpanels are focusing on the technological aspects of EPA rulemaking, the Energy and Commerce subpanel is expected to hear about the human impacts of adding further emissions constraints to coal-fired power plants.

Rule backers, including EPA and President Obama himself, have touted not only the health benefits but also the climate change urgency of living in a carbon-constrained world.

However, what many coal-field communities are seeing, especially in Appalachia, is a wave of coal-fired power plant retirements and thousands of miner layoffs. In recent months, for example, Kentucky coal mining employment dropped to its lowest level on record.

“Entire communities stand to disappear and our area’s economy will fall into decay,” said Roger Horton, head of the group Citizens for Coal, in a recent blog post, blaming the Obama administration and Democratic allies.

Even pro-coal advocates who acknowledge that many of the industry’s woes are due to cheap natural gas, among other market forces, including coal deposits beyond Appalachia that are more economical to mine, say the locations for EPA’s listening sessions for rules dealing with existing generators are evidence of the agency’s agenda.

Last week, several lawmakers wrote McCarthy to urge her to hold listening sessions in places where coal is widely produced and used, rather than near major EPA offices.

“It’s troubling that the EPA is holding 11 upcoming public listening sessions on regulating power plants in cities such as Boston, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and New York City without stopping in places that rely on these plants for jobs and electricity,” said Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.).

“Main Street communities in states like West Virginia, Montana and Wyoming will see the greatest impact because that’s where these plants are located,” he added.

American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity chief Mike Duncan said, “EPA’s so-called ‘listening sessions’ appear to be another smoke-and-mirror exercise by this administration in its ongoing mad rush to push forward regulations that will abolish good-paying jobs for thousands of America’s hardest-working people.”

But clean energy and climate campaigner Benton Strong said EPA had little choice but to schedule the hearings where they are.

“While continuing to squeeze the EPA’s budget and block action whenever possible, Republicans in Congress are now complaining the agency isn’t doing enough,” he said. “Using their regional offices allows EPA to get input from key stakeholders across the country, for a strong carbon pollution standard that protects public health and addresses climate change.”

Schedule: The Science panel hearing is Tuesday, Oct. 29, at 10 a.m. in 2318 Rayburn.

Witnesses: Charles McConnell, executive director of the Energy & Environment Initiative at Rice University; Richard Bajura, director of the National Research Center for Coal and Energy at West Virginia University; Kurt Waltzer, managing director of the Clean Air Task Force; and Roger Martella, partner at Sidley Austin.

Schedule: The Energy and Commerce panel hearing is Tuesday, Oct. 29, at 2 p.m. in 2123 Rayburn.

Witnesses: Albey Brock, Bell County judge and executive, Pineville, Ky.; Raymond Ventrone, Boilermakers Local 154, Pittsburgh; Roger Horton, Citizens for Coal, Holden, W.Va.; John Pippy, Pennsylvania Coal Alliance CEO; Olen Lund, former Delta County, Colo., commissioner; and Mayor John Fetterman, Braddock, Pa.