Power Struggle: America's old coal plants and new EPA regulations
The U.S. power sector is a central player in struggle over clean energy. It is responsible for roughly 40 percent of America’s energy use and about 40 percent of its climate pollution.
While a great deal of attention has been paid to how climate legislation might affect the electricity industry, much less has been paid to other drivers of change. In particular, several new and updated regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) portend immense changes — in fact, in the near- to mid-term, they are likely to do more to drive the transition to clean electricity than a climate bill would have.
Despite the enormous environmental and economic stakes, however, neither the regulations nor their likely consequences are well understood by the public. So let’s take a look! What follows is a series of (relatively) brief and (hopefully) accessible posts covering the basics of the power sector and the regulations coming its way.
- A brief overview of the U.S. power sector.
- Why America still has a large fleet of filthy old coal plants with no modern pollution controls.
- The two new EPA rules that most threaten old coal plants.
- The other new EPA rules that could threaten coal plants.
- Coal utilities are telling Congress that disaster looms.
- Despite their protestations, utilities can meet EPA standards without threatening reliability.
Stories in this series:
A broad look at the power industry -- where the power plants are, what they burn, and which ones pollute.
Yesterday I published a brief overview of the U.S. power sector. Aging coal plants are responsible for the vast bulk of the its pollution -- greenhouse gases, SOX and NOX, particulates (smog), mercury, combustion ash, you name it. The power sector's pollution problem is largely the problem of old coal plants. What's the deal with that? Why are those plants still so filthy?
EPA is working furiously on clean-air rules, and coal-dominated utilities are terrified. Some of the oldest, dirtiest coal plants will be shut down.
Utilities now face an EPA that is taking its responsibilities seriously. So they're forecasting doom, filling legislators' heads with scare stories, and planning lawsuits.
Coal utilities are trying to scare Congress into thinking that if EPA follows up with its planned regulations, electricity rates will soar and there will be reliability problems in the electricity grid. Is it true? According to a comprehensive new analysis, no.
Certain members of the U.S. Congress believe that America shouldn't do anything about climate change until China does. Let's focus on something China is doing: shutting down old, dirty coal plants.
I've been worrying aloud on the blog that the Obama administration doesn't seem to be doing much to prepare for the relentless assault on EPA that's already underway, not only on its coming greenhouse gas regulations but on its entire agenda. Instead, the agency looks to be backing down.
A new study shows EPA has been undercounting the externalities imposed by ozone pollution, and thus understating net benefits of its new ozone rules.
There's been a lot of hubbub lately about new and emerging EPA regulations. Lots of folks in pollution-intensive industries would like you to believe that those regulations will crush the economy, leave grandma shivering in the dark, and smack that ice cream cone right out of little Jimmy's hands. A while back I wrote about a report that examined the issue closely and concluded that the power industry can comply with the new regulations without adversely affecting system reliability. Now another analysis has been released, examining the same set of issues and coming to the roughly same conclusion.