“Among the many things government can do in the broad public interest, and surely among the first things it should do, is to secure an affordable and reliable supply of electricity for its people and its industries. The blessings of liberty may be secured by laws and custom, but the blessings of modern civilization are unthinkable without electricity, a truly indispensable commodity in the 21st century.
Our country has enjoyed the advantage of low-cost electricity for so long that we may be taking it for granted. This may be about to change.
That’s the disturbing conclusion we draw from regulations proposed by EPA for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. EPA would require new coal-fired plants to use carbon capture technology that is not only unproven for power plants but is commercially unavailable and won’t be for at least a decade or more. The deliberate effect is to rule out for future use the one energy source that provides more electricity than any other. The agency’s proposal leaves us with little doubt about its intentions for regulating emissions from existing coal plants with a separate rule expected this summer.
Aside from the doubtful legality of mandating non-existent, undemonstrated technology for real world application, EPA’s approach is grossly irresponsible as public policy in two ways.
First, the agency is taking a dangerous gamble with the nation’s economy. By removing coal from future use, EPA weakens, if not destroys, what has been a strength of our economy — a diversified energy portfolio. The result is a far less reliable electricity grid, a risky reliance on one major fuel source for generating base load power, and the certain prospect of higher electricity prices. Lincoln advised us ‘not to swap horses in midstream.’ Good advice now as then.
Yet EPA ignores it. In testimony before a startled congressional committee last week, a senior Department of Energy official candidly confirmed what EPA has tried to conceal. EPA’s insistence on carbon capture technology for new coal-powered plants could, we learned, drive up wholesale electricity prices by 80%. Much of this increase would be passed on to households and industries, breaking family budgets and rendering energy-intensive industries less able to compete in a global market. In short, this is not about burdensome costs to the coal industry; it’s about rising costs for scores of industries heavily reliant on affordable power and higher utility bills for millions of families including the most vulnerable.
The gamble EPA is taking with affordable electricity is disturbing enough, but even more so for being entirely unnecessary for environmental improvement. EPA could achieve significant and steady reductions in greenhouse gas emissions without sending price shocks throughout the economy by requiring best-in-class technology that is available for use today. Gasification and super-critical coal are proven technologies suitable for large-scale use, effective for reducing emissions and available for new plant construction. Compared to older plants they replace, advanced plants with these technologies use at least a third less coal to generate the same amount of electricity and emit 35% less carbon dioxide.* This common sense approach would minimize further loss of coal-generating capacity that has already greatly exceeded the agency’s forecasts. In fact, EPA’s estimate of plant retirements from its regulations have proven as hollow as its reassurances about cost increases.
Because EPA insists on ignoring common sense solutions, we are proposing one of our own. Our bill will base emissions standards for new plants on the best performing technologies actually in use today. For existing plants, Congress will weigh in to ensure that states are accorded the proper leeway we intended for them under the Clean Air Act. Far from barring EPA from controlling greenhouse gas emissions, by insisting on proven technology, our approach will actually work.
We will not improve the livelihood of Americans or the health of the environment with