EPA ruling is blow to new coal-fired power plants (updated)

It may become harder for utilities to gain permission to build new coal-fired power plants while promising to deal with carbon-dioxide emissions at some point in the future, when carbon sequestration technology becomes available.

From a press release circulated on the Sierra Club’s Iowa topics e-mail loop yesterday:

Ruling: Coal Plants Must Limit C02

In a move that signals the start of the our clean energy future, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Appeals Board (EAB) ruled today EPA had no valid reason for refusing to limit from new coal-fired power plants the carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming.  The decision means that all new and proposed coal plants nationwide must go back and address their carbon dioxide emissions.

“Today’s decision opens the way for meaningful action to fight global warming and is a major step in bringing about a clean energy economy,” said Joanne Spalding, Sierra Club Senior Attorney who argued the case. “This is one more sign that we must begin repowering, refueling and rebuilding America.”

“The EAB rejected every Bush Administration excuse for failing to regulate the largest source of greenhouse gases in the United States.  This decision gives the Obama Administration a clean slate to begin building our clean energy economy for the 21st century,” continued Spalding The decision follows a 2007 Supreme Court ruling recognizing carbon dioxide, the principle source of global warming, is a pollutant under the federal Clean Air Act.

“Coal plants emit 30% of our nation’s global warming pollution. Building new coal plants without controlling their carbon emissions could wipe out all of the other efforts being undertaken by cities, states and communities across the country,” said Bruce Nilles, Director of the Sierra Club’s National Coal Campaign. “Everyone has a role to play and it’s time that the

coal industry did its part and started living up to its clean coal rhetoric.”

The Sierra Club went before the Environmental Appeals Board in May of 2008 to request that the air permit for Deseret Power Electric Cooperative’s proposed waste coal-fired power plant be overturned because it failed to require any controls on carbon dioxide pollution. Deseret Power’s 110 MW Bonanza plant would have emitted 3.37 million tons of carbon dioxide each

year.

“Instead of pouring good money after bad trying to fix old coal technology, investors should be looking to wind, solar and energy efficiency

technologies that are going to power the economy, create jobs, and help the climate recover,” said Nilles.

I don’t yet know how this ruling will affect the proposed coal-fired power plants for Waterloo and Marshalltown. I will update this post as more information becomes available.

UPDATE: Mark Kresowik, National Corporate Accountability Representative with the Sierra Club’s National Coal Campaign, provided this comment:

“The Environmental Appeals Board remanded Deseret’s air quality permit for the Bonanza coal plant, issued by the EPA under the PSD program, back to the EPA. They clearly stated that the EPA has the authority to regulate carbon dioxide and establish a “best available control technology” (BACT) limit for carbon dioxide pollution from significant new sources (like coal plants).

While they did not answer the question of whether or not the EPA MUST establish a limit, they did reject all of the previous excuses the Bush EPA has used to avoid regulating carbon dioxide.  So EPA must completely reopen the air quality permit, decide whether or not to limit CO2 from power plants (and how to limit CO2 if it chooses to), and justify that decision.

The EAB decision is formally binding on all air quality permits issued by the EPA.  However, most air quality permits are not issued by the EPA but rather by state authorities delegated that power by the EPA, for instance the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.  However, those authorities must enforce regulations at least as stringently as the EPA and all of them look to the EPA for guidance on issues such as this.  So it is probable that every coal plant air quality permit in the country from now on (including those issued but still being challenged on carbon dioxide grounds) must address CO2 limits directly, either establishing a limit or justifying their refusal in a new way that the EPA has not previously used.  It is likely a de-facto stay on all air quality permit decisions for approximately the next 6-12 months, including proposed coal plants in Waterloo and Marshalltown that have not been issued air quality permits.

This is an important opportunity for Iowa and the entire country to make significant investments in energy efficiency and clean energy that will lower energy costs, create millions of “green collar” jobs, and stimulate our economy.”

Looks like the DNR is our best hope for stopping new coal-fired power plants in Iowa.

Meanwhile, earlier this week Wisconsin became the latest state to reject an application to build a coal-fired power plant. The whole press release from the Iowa Environmental Council is after the jump. Here is an excerpt:

“Building coal-fired power plants has never made sense from an environmental perspective and no longer makes sense from an economic perspective,” said Katie Nekola, energy program director of Clean Wisconsin. “The transition toward a clean energy economy is beginning, and it’s important for other states not to lag behind the movement by building more coal plants.”

Nathaniel Baer, energy program director for the Iowa Environmental Council, says Iowans need to follow the lead of neighboring states to the west, north, and now east, which have concluded that clean energy makes more economic sense than coal.

“Iowa simply cannot afford to be left behind sinking billions of dollars into monuments to 19th century dirty coal,” Baer said.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 11, 2008                                  

Contact:

Katie Nekola

Energy Program Director, Clean Wisconsin

608-251-7020 x14, knekola@cleanwisconsin.org

Nathaniel Baer

Energy Program Director, Iowa Environmental Council

515-244-1194, ext 206, baer@iaenviroment.org

Rick Fuentes

Senior Media Relations Specialist, Fresh Energy

612-741-0662, Fuentes@fresh-energy.org

Wisconsin Coal Plant Proposal Rejected

Historic Decision Highlights Changing Energy Policy and Shift Away from Coal

Madison, Wis –  Wisconsin regulators joined a long list of states rejecting coal plants when they voted to reject Alliant Energy’s proposal to construct a 300 megawatt coal-fired power plant on the shores of the Mississippi River in Cassville, Wisconsin.

“States across the country are scrapping plans to construct coal-fired power plants,” said Michael Noble, executive director of Fresh Energy, in St. Paul, MN. “The need to reduce global warming pollution and build a strong, clean energy economy makes coal an unattractive choice for electrical production.”

The rejection of a coal plant proposal in Wisconsin highlights the changing atmosphere of energy policy in the United States. Once thought an inexpensive means of producing power, coal-fired power plants are facing greater opposition as the cost of coal grows alongside the concern about global warming pollution.

“Building coal-fired power plants has never made sense from an environmental perspective and no longer makes sense from an economic perspective,” said Katie Nekola, energy program director of Clean Wisconsin. “The transition toward a clean energy economy is beginning, and it’s important for other states not to lag behind the movement by building more coal plants.”

Nathaniel Baer, energy program director for the Iowa Environmental Council, says Iowans need to follow the lead of neighboring states to the west, north, and now east, which have concluded that clean energy makes more economic sense than coal.

“Iowa simply cannot afford to be left behind sinking billions of dollars into monuments to 19th century dirty coal,” Baer said.

With today’s decision Wisconsin joins a list of states including Kansas, Montana, Minnesota, Georgia, and Florida that have all rejected plans to construct coal fired power plants. The rejected proposal is the 64th nationwide in the last two years. The Big Stone II coal plant proposal is still pending. It will come in front of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission Nov. 12. Eight plants are pending in Michigan, six are pending in Illinois, and two are pending in Iowa.

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