Congress Fights Obama's Plan to Bankrupt Coal Industry

Last month, the Obama administration published a proposed rule in the Federal Register that will effectively ban new coal-fired power plants. This greenhouse gas emission mandate on new power plants represents the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s plan to bankrupt the coal industry—and with it one of America’s most affordable, abundant, reliable energy sources. A bipartisan coalition in Congress, however, is fighting back.

The Electricity Security and Affordability Act (H.R. 3826) would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from instituting any power plant regulations that rely on unproven technology; require the EPA to seek approval from Congress on any proposed rules for existing power plants; and repeal the EPA’s recently proposed greenhouse gas emissions standards for new power plants. The bill, co-authored by Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), recently passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee and has attracted 72 co-sponsors from both parties.

EPA’s proposed standards for new power plants would limit natural gas-fired power plants to 1,000 pounds per megawatt hour of carbon dioxide emissions and coal-fired power plants to 1,100 pounds per megawatt-hour. Most new natural gas-fired plants will be able to meet this requirement, but it is a de facto ban on new coal plants. The only way to achieve these carbon dioxide emissions reductions would be to install highly expensive technology called carbon capture and storage (CCS). CCS technology is neither economically or commercially viable at this point, yet the EPA uses it as a justification for creating its new regulations.

In fact, there is not a single coal-fired generating facility that is currently employing CCS at the commercial level anywhere in the world. As the Institute for Energy Research has pointed out before, all of the projects that the EPA cites in its regulation are either under construction or still in the planning process. In fact, one of the projects recently hit a snag in its development: CPS Energy of Texas canceled its agreement with the Texas Clean Energy Project.

The Whitfield-Manchin bill would require EPA to base power plant standards on proven technology, not the agency’s own pipe dreams. The bill states that the EPA cannot set emission standards unless “such standard has been achieved on average for at least one continuous 12-month period (excluding planned outages) by each of at least 6 units within such category.” In addition, the bill prevents EPA from using “demonstration projects” to satisfy the “adequately demonstrated” requirement.

Whitfield-Manchin also adds layers of accountability and transparency to EPA’s opaque rulemaking process. For instance, the bill requires EPA to file a report for approval by Congress for any new standards for existing power plants. It would also repeal the recently proposed standards on new power plants, forcing EPA to follow the process laid out in the bill before pursuing any new regulations.

The EPA’s emission regulations for new and existing power plants are the lynchpin of the Obama administration’s war on affordable energy in general and coal in particular. Coal provides about 40 percent of the country’s electricity, but the EPA’s attempts to shut down these power plants will threaten this reliable energy source and raise energy costs on the American people. Legislative efforts to curtail the EPA’s power grab deserve attention.

AEA Press Secretary Chris Warren authored this post. 

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