It’s the End of Coal As We Know It, and the EPA Feels Fine

Photo by Andy Uhler/KUT News

A new EPA rule puts future coal power plants at a crossroads.

The Environmental Protection Agency issued the first standard on greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act today for future power plants. The agency also says the rule “does not apply to plants currently operating or new permitted plants that begin construction over the next 12 months.” The bottom line: building a coal power plant is going to be a very unattractive option.

Under the new rule, which you can read in the embedded EPA fact sheet below, new fossil-fuel based power plants generating 25 megawatts or more of energy would be limited to emissions of 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour. Essentially, the rule favors natural gas power plants over coal. The EPA estimates that “95 percent of natural gas plants built since 2005 would meet the requirement.”

But for coal plants it’s another story. Drawing the line at 1,000 pounds of carbon emissions per megawatt-hour would eliminate most new coal power plants. According to the Washington Post, “coal plants emit an average of 1,768 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt.” Natural gas, on the other hand, “emits between 800 to 850 pounds.”

The EPA says that coal could still be used for power if plants used “technology to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to meet the standard, such as carbon capture and storage.”

In Slate, Matthew Yglesias breaks down what the new standard means:

“The result is that barring some miraculous new innovation in the creation of cost-effective carbon sequestration technology, there aren’t going to be any more coal-fired plants built in the United States. The face of new fossil fuel based electricity will be gas (which is considerably cleaner than coal), and the alternative to gas in the event that the gas boom ends will be renewables.”

“This is both a historic event and in many ways not that big a deal. The rollout process for new power plants is very slow, so this won’t have any impact on short-term construction of anything. And even before the EPA got in the game, new coal was basically dead in the United States. Cheap gas, the falling price of solar, community activism, and the risk of CO2 regulation had already created the situation where no new post-2012 conventional coal was in the pipeline anyway. And America’s large existing fleet of coal-fired plants are unaffected by this new rule. Regulating existing plants will be the subject of a separate rulemaking process and the new rules will be much more generous to pollution than the New Source Performance Standards ones.”

We’ll have more reporting and analysis on this later today. You can read the EPA’s fact sheet on the new greenhouse gas rule:

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