The agency has declared war on coal and EPA administrator Lisa Jackson is using every weapon in her arsenal to stamp out coal at all costs. The long-term implications for maintaining the U.S. energy infrastructure are huge. Congress is trying to force the administration to acknowledge the true costs of its actions. If the EPA is allowed to move forward with its plans, those currently employed by the coal chain—miners, transporters and utility workers—will be the front line casualties. The collateral damage will be the American economy as increased energy costs postpone chances for a true economic recovery.

The news department opens this month with a feel good story about the new Prairie State Energy Campus in Illinois, but a one-page snapshot of potential coal-fired power plant closings (see News, p. 16) provides a sobering counterbalance. Many of those plants are older and represent a significant investment for utilities. Recent proposed EPA rules would undoubtedly hasten those decisions. An older plant might be able to comply with one or two of the new rules, but the onslaught of overlapping regulations will make the decision much easier.

Two major rules will affect the future of U.S. power generation: the proposed Maximum Achievable Control Technology Rule (the Utility MACT Rule) and the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (the Transport Rule). The MACT Rule requires coal-fired power plants to reduce emissions of mercury and other hazardous air pollutants. The Clean Air Act required the EPA to determine whether such regulation was “appropriate and necessary,” which the EPA did in 2000. A U.S. Court of Appeals established deadlines of March 16, 2011, for the proposed rule and November 16, 2011, for the final rule. The limits must represent MACT, defined as the top 12% performance of existing units.

The Transport Rule requires 27 states to significantly improve air quality by cutting SO2 and NOx emissions that contribute to pollution problems in other states. It replaces the 2005 Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR), which the U.S. Court of Appeals ordered the EPA to revise in 2008. Emissions reductions will take effect quickly, starting January 1, 2012, for SO2 and annual NOx reductions, and May 1, 2012, for ozone season NOx reductions. Significant additional SO2 emissions reductions will be required in 2014.

The proposed Utility MACT and Transport Rules, together with pending rules for coal ash and cooling water, would force U.S. coal-fired utilities to spend tens of billions of dollars on plant upgrades. Many utilities have warned the EPA the rules impose unreasonable compliance deadlines and will weaken the reliability of the grid.

Help is on the way. Last month, the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed H.R. 2401, the Train Act, named for the Train Wreck of proposed EPA rules. It could delay the ability of the EPA to implement the proposed Utility MACT and Transport Rules. The Train Act broadens the definition of costs. The EPA does not accurately consider the tangible costs of lost jobs, energy prices and reliability, or the competitiveness of U.S. based manufacturers. Many are hoping for a House floor vote in September.

Sadly, when it comes to the economic recovery, the EPA is part of the problem. It’s a job-killing agency run by an eco-zealot focused on the unattainable, a coal-free society. Hopefully sanity and common sense will soon prevail because the U.S. cannot withstand another five years.