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Policy: Environment & Energy

The 'war on coal' is about to heat up in 2014

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Sierra Club,EPA,Ashe Schow,Energy and Environment,Coal

If you thought 2013 was a tough year for the coal industry, get ready for 2014, when the “war on coal” is set to really heat up.

Recent articles suggest that the damaging Environmental Protection Agency rules for coal plants from last year were just a first step, and that the agency is preparing to ramp up its goal to reduce carbon emissions at the expense of the coal industry in 2014.

For starters, it's clear based on documents released by the EPA that the Obama administration wanted to show that regulations for new coal plants was “just the start,” and that it intended to expand those regulations to cover existing coal plants and natural gas plants as well.

“Obama administration officials wanted EPA to be clear that this regulation is just the start, that the purpose is largely a legal set up for more expansive regulations that will cover the nation's existing fleet of power plants, and that in the future, it won't just be coal on the line, but natural gas, too,” wrote Erica Martinson, an energy reporter for Politico Pro.

The EPA also clarified some language in the proposed rules for new coal plants that indicated natural gas-fired power plants would be subject to the same stringent rules as coal plants in the future.

Those rules limit the amount of carbon coal plants are allowed to release, and force plants to use expensive, unproven carbon capture and storage systems to meet that limit.

The documents show that Obama administration officials suggested the EPA “send a signal encouraging research and development into carbon capture at natural gas-fired power plants.”

But that technology is nowhere ready for primetime, and the EPA's push for its use appears to stem more from collusion with members of the Sierra Club than actual tests.

In emails obtained by transparency activist Christopher Horner, the EPA appears to have met or spoken with Sierra Club members many times over the past few years regarding the coal regulations. In one 2011 email with the subject line “Zombie’s [sic],” the head of the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign, John Coequyt, sent a list of “defeated” power plants to EPA officials Michael Goo and Alex Barron.

The plants were listed as defeated because the companies building them shelved the projects due to uncertainty surrounding EPA greenhouse gas emissions rules.

“If a standard is set that these plants could meet, there is a not small chance that they [sic] company could decide to revive the proposal,” Coequyt said.

Several months after that email was sent, Coequyt sent an updated email to Barron citing 153 “defeated” coal plants and just 26 “progressing,” that is, built or in the process of being built.

Coequyt made clear that the Sierra Club was “very worried” about new coal plants being built.

“[W]e are very worried that as many as a third of the [coal plants] that are in the permitting process – but for which construction has not commenced – will get build, e.g., up to 15-20 additional coal plants,” Coequyt said.

Flash forward to 2014, and Coequyt is back again, this time confirming to the left-leaning site ThinkProgress what Obama officials said about the rules for new coal plants setting a “legal precedent.”

“It’s important because it establishes the form that these regulations will take,” Coequyt said. “It is the legal precedent. It shows that the administration is going to meet the timeline it established and is going to move forward. It’s a clear signal that they are serious about finally addressing carbon pollution from power plants.”

Coequyt also said that the Sierra Club would “look forward to seeing what the EPA proposes this summer for existing power plants.”

Indeed, the EPA plans to set similar emissions standards for existing coal plants later this year.

If the Sierra Club assisted in pushing the EPA to make rules for new coal plants more stringent and is chomping at the bit to hear what the plan for existing plants will be, one can be sure that the next set of rules will be more about satiating environmentalists' unreasonable demands to end coal use and less about affordable energy.

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