Sources: EPA Scrambles To Protect Key Climate Rule

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EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy

EPA Admin­is­tra­tor Gina McCarthy

The Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency may delay a con­tentious rule man­dat­ing car­bon cap­ture tech­nol­o­gy for coal-fired pow­er plants, accord­ing to news reports.

The agency has not offi­cial­ly com­ment­ed on the report­ed rule, but sources famil­iar with the pos­si­ble delay of the New Source Per­for­mance Stan­dards say it stems from seri­ous prob­lems with its car­bon cap­ture mandate.

Since the EPA’s NSPS for coal plants was pro­posed last fall, it has been sub­ject to com­ments, gov­ern­ment records requests and con­gres­sion­al over­sight over its require­ment that coal plants install car­bon cap­ture and stor­age (CCS) tech­nol­o­gy to reduce car­bon diox­ide emissions.

The report­ed delays come as House Repub­li­cans are prepar­ing to receive a slew of doc­u­ments that may endan­ger the agency’s rule, sources told The Dai­ly Caller News Foundation.

Reps. Fred Upton of Michi­gan and Tim Mur­phy of Penn­syl­va­nia request­ed doc­u­ments from the Ener­gy Depart­ment in Sep­tem­ber, includ­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions between the DOE and EPA over the legal­i­ty and fea­si­bil­i­ty of man­dat­ing coal plants use CCS. Accord­ing to sources, the DOE is prepar­ing to hand those doc­u­ments over to House lawmakers.

Repub­li­can law­mak­ers argue that man­dat­ing CCS vio­lates the Envi­ron­men­tal Pol­i­cy Act of 2005, which pro­hibits the EPA from man­dat­ing tech­nol­o­gy that is backed by gov­ern­ment funding.

The DCNF was also told by sources that com­ments filed about the reg­u­la­tion from oppo­si­tion groups have cast fur­ther doubts on the legal­i­ty of EPA’s CCS man­date. In par­tic­u­lar, com­ments from the Ener­gy & Envi­ron­ment Legal Insti­tute sub­mit­ted in March were a cause for con­cern with­in the EPA.

The 2005 Ener­gy Pol­i­cy Act pro­hibits EPA from using sub­si­dized pow­er plants as exam­ples that tech­nol­o­gy is com­mer­cial­ly viable or that such tech­nol­o­gy has been ‘ade­quate­ly demon­strat­ed,’” wrote ener­gy and legal experts at EELI.

EPA sole­ly relied upon plants that received sub­si­dies in reach­ing this rule, though it lat­er sub­sti­tut­ed small­er, non-anal­o­gous car­bon cap­ture oper­a­tions as exam­ples once it became aware of the pro­hi­bi­tion on using sub­si­dized plants,” EELI experts added.

EELI also points out that EPA ignored con­cerns from the White House’s Office of Man­age­ment and Bud­get and the DOE say­ing the agency did not “clear­ly rep­re­sent the facts” about CCS and mis­con­strued a DOE study on the subject.

EELI has filed Free­dom of Infor­ma­tion Act requests with the EPA and DOE to obtain doc­u­ments relat­ing to the deci­sion-mak­ing process sur­round­ing the CCS man­date for coal plants. Doc­u­ments from these FOIA requests should soon be forthcoming.

In Sep­tem­ber 2013, the EPA pro­posed its rule to cut car­bon diox­ide emis­sions from new coal-fired pow­er plants. The rule set emis­sions stan­dards for new coal plants so low that the only tech­nol­o­gy the­o­ret­i­cal­ly capa­ble of meet­ing the rule was CCS — which crit­ics say is an unproven technology.

No com­mer­cial-scale coal plant in the coun­try cur­rent­ly uses CCS to syphon off car­bon emis­sions. There are U.S. CCS pow­er plant projects under con­struc­tion, but they have all got­ten fed­er­al gov­ern­ment fund­ing and suf­fer from delays and cost overruns.

The EPA, how­ev­er, has argued that CCS is “ade­quate­ly demon­strat­ed” tech­nol­o­gy, cit­ing exam­ples like the Kem­per pow­er plant in Mis­sis­sip­pi — which will be the first com­mer­cial-scale pow­er plant in the U.S. to use CCS.

But the Kem­per plant has suf­fered huge set­backs. The project has seen delays in its timetable and sig­nif­i­cant cost over­runs. The Asso­ci­at­ed Press report­ed in Octo­ber that the total cost for Kem­per is push­ing $6.1 bil­lion. The plant was giv­en a $270 mil­lion grant from the DOE and can get $279 mil­lion in tax cred­its when it begins operations.

The project was orig­i­nal­ly sup­posed to cost just $2.8 bil­lion for the plant and its asso­ci­at­ed coal mine, and was sup­posed to begin oper­a­tions last year, the AP reports. The plant’s open­ing date has been pushed from June 2015 to March 2016 and addi­tion­al delays could cost $20 to $30 mil­lion a month.

Sources say that prob­lems with Kem­per have prompt­ed the EPA to switch its focus from the Mis­sis­sip­pi project to the Bound­ary Dam CCS project in Cana­da, which came online ear­li­er this year.

Bound­ary Dam pow­er plant in Este­van, Saskatchewan comes online after a four-year $1.21 bil­lion retro­fit. The plant’s oper­a­tor, SaskPow­er, hopes the project can prove CCS is a work­able tech­nol­o­gy. The project did, how­ev­er, get $240 mil­lion from the Cana­di­an government.

The EPA did not imme­di­ate­ly respond to TheDCNF’s request for com­ment on their report­ed CCS rule delay.