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September 20, 2013

EPA's Disingenuous Power Plant Regulation

September 20, 2013
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Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released their new decree on carbon dioxide emissions from coal and natural gas-fired power plants. This edict may be the most disingenuous regulation of all time. The administration claims that they have a moral imperative to “act on climate change,” but then released a regulation which they admit will not affect climate change in any way.  Their moral imperative is an immoral assault against America’s working men and women and will only serve to drive up energy costs and make the U.S. more uncompetitive.

EPA says that its own rule will do nothing to impact climate change

Earlier this year, President Obama gave a major speech on climate change at a college campus. In the speech, he stated that we have an important obligation to act:

As a President, as a father, and as an American, I’m here to say we need to act.

I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixing.  And that’s why, today, I’m announcing a new national climate action plan, and I’m here to enlist your generation’s help in keeping the United States of America a leader — a global leader — in the fight against climate change.

Today’s announcement is the first big step the administration has taken to implement the President’s plan through regulation. Accordingly, EPA should be able to demonstrate that their action will have an impact on the climate the President says he is worried about. But according to EPA, this rule will do nothing about the climate or the temperature.

As the regulation states, “EPA projects that this proposed rule will result in negligible CO2 emission changes, quantified benefits, and costs by 2022.”[1] [emphasis added] According to EPA, they believe any new power plants built over the next decade would meet these standards without the rule.[2] In other words, the rule is completely superfluous and will not affect the climate, but EPA spent the time and money to impose the rule anyway.

EPA is claiming that the rule has no impact on coal-fired power plants or on carbon dioxide emissions in order to hide the fact that banning new coal-fired power plants will not impact global warming in any material way. The regulation includes no analysis of the reduction in temperature or sea level rise that the regulation will cause. This is the case because, as we have previously noted, based on assumptions in the IPCC’s Assessment Reports, if the U.S. as a whole stopped emitting all carbon dioxide emissions today, the impact on projected global temperature rise would be a reduction of approximately 0.08°C by the year 2050 and 0.17°C by the year 2100—amounts that are, for all intents and purposes, negligible.

Because this regulation would result in a small emissions reduction, the impact on climate would be even less. By not assessing the impacts on climate change, EPA is inadvertently admitting that this rule will do nothing to impact the problem the President claims is so dire.

EPA is imposing impossible-to-meet restrictions

This new regulation imposes a limit on the carbon dioxide emissions from new coal and natural gas-fired power plants. For coal-fired power plants, EPA limits the carbon dioxide emissions to 1,100 pounds per megawatt-hour and for natural gas power plants to 1,000 pounds per megawatt hour. Currently, the average coal-fired power plant emits 1,768 pounds per megawatt hour and natural gas power plants emit 800 to 850 pounds per megawatt hour.

This regulation is impossible for coal-fired power plants to meet without using expensive and unreliable technologies to capture the carbon dioxide emissions. This is really a ban on new coal-fired power plants.

The EPA administrator claims that, “Clearly the technology is available. It’s been fully demonstrated.”  This is not true. EPA cannot point to a single power plant that is operating successfully with this technology, despite billions of dollars of federal subsidies spent on these technologies. Instead, EPA points to two power plants that are currently under construction, Southern Company’s Kemper County Energy Facility,  SaskPower’s Boundary Dam CCS Project and two additional power plants that are still in the planning phase, Texas Clean Energy Project, and Hydrogen Energy California, LLC. All of these projects have received hundreds of millions in subsidies.

  • The Kemper County Energy Facility received a $270 million grant from the Department of Energy and $133 million in investment tax credits approved by the IRS. Originally it was projected to cost $2.4 billion project but is now estimated to cost $4.3 billion.
  • SaskPower’s Boundary Dam project is estimated to cost $1.24 billion to build a small 110 MW power plant. The project received $240 million from the Canadian federal government in 2010.
  • The Texas Clean Energy Project received $450 million from the Department of Energy under the DOE’s Clean Coal Power Initiative.
  • Hydrogen Energy California is funded in part by a $408 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Despite claims that this technology is available, there isn’t a single power plant actual using it.


Today’s announcement may be the most disingenuous regulation of all time. President Obama called for action on climate change and EPA answered with a regulation which it admits would do nothing. Furthermore, it is telling that despite EPA’s claims that the necessarily technology to capture carbon dioxide is “fully demonstrated,” the only plants EPA points to are ones that have received hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies but aren’t yet operating and two that are still on the drawing board.

The reality is that this regulation is designed to increase the price of electricity and increase federal control over coal and natural gas power plants. If EPA can get away with this regulation, they can essentially ban not only new coal-fired power plants, but existing natural gas and coal-fired power plants as well.  When bills go up, jobs go offshore and lights go off, Americans should know who to blame

[1] Environmental Protection Agency, Standards of Performance for Greenhouse Gas Emissions from New Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units (signed notice), p. 16-17,

[2] Id. 

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