December 6, 2018 - The EPA announced today a proposed revision to the new source performance standards (NSPS) for CO2 emissions from new coal power plants. While some commentators, including The New York Times, have tried to frame the revision as a rollback of climate regulation, it’s anything but.
The proposed revision to the standard provides a pathway for advanced coal technologies now available and viable to reduce emissions – something the current standard made impossible. Put in place by the prior administration’s EPA, the current standard in effect requires the use of carbon capture and storage (CCS) at new coal plants, a technology critically important to achieving emissions reductions but not yet available at a broad and cost-effective scale. It’s a standard that was designed to take the prospect of any viable new coal technology off the table.
Not only was it a deeply counterproductive decision to effectively bar technolgy that can make a difference in cutting emissions, but it was a decision based on a deeply-flawed, illegal reading of the Clean Air Act (CAA) and precisely what the American public has said it doesn’t want.
A balanced, all-of-the above energy strategy is time and again what voters say they are looking for in energy policy. Protecting affordable, reliable power, while also improving the environmental performance of the nation’s electric grid is a reasonable and achievable goal and one that needs advanced coal technologies in the mix.
The Trump administration’s revised approach returns the NSPS to sound legal footing. When the Obama-era EPA proposed the current standard, it was tasked with establishing the best system of emissions reduction (BSER) from new coal plants. The EPA is legally obligated to set a BSER that is achievable and demonstrated through commercial application. Despite the promise of CCS, it was far from commercially viable in 2014 – when the EPA proposed its standard – and remains a technology in need of further investment and demonstration today.
High efficiency, low emissions (HELE) coal technologies, in contrast, are making a difference around the world right now. With this revised standard, they can now be part of the toolbox we need to cut emissions while preserving the dispatchable energy diversity that has for so long been the strength of the U.S. grid.
Higher penetration of off-the-shelf HELE technologies – such as supercritical and ultra-supercritical combustion – in our own coal fleet could bring great leaps forward in efficiency, producing far more power from far less coal. As analysis from the World Coal Association has shown, improving the efficiency of global coal fleet from 33 percent to 40 percent with available HELE technology would reduce CO2 emissions by 14 to 21 percent, a reduction equivalent to all of India’s energy-related carbon emissions.
Barring the deployment of advanced coal technology in the U.S. was just the opposite of climate leadership. As the world’s largest economy and the nation with the world’s largest coal reserves and an unmatched capacity for innovation, it’s incumbent on the U.S. to invest in advanced coal technology and push it forward. The world needs technological solutions that help reduce emissions from the affordable, secure sources of energy that nations actually use and will continue to use for the foreseeable future.
Global coal consumption grew in 2017. Hundreds of coal plants are under construction or planned around the world. Coal remains the world’s leading fuel for electricity generation and the key tool used to address energy poverty and drive industrialization. U.S. leadership in improving and demonstrating cost-effective coal technology is a necessity. The EPA’s revised NSPS gets the U.S back on track to do just that.