Manchin Shoots Hole Through EPA Power Plant Rule

by Marlo Lewis on November 20, 2015

in Blog

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On Tuesday, the Senate passed S.J. Res. 23 and 24, Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolutions to overturn EPA’s so-called Carbon Pollution Standards rule and Clean Power Plan rule. CRA resolutions cannot be filibustered, so require only simple majorities to pass. Each resolution passed 52-46.

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin is the chief Democrat co-sponsor of resolution 23. His floor statement, which summarizes a letter he recently sent to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, provides new information showing that carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is still not “adequately demonstrated” as commercially viable — hence that the “Carbon Pollution Standards” rule is unlawful.

Background: Obama’s Climate Policy Troika Greenhouse of Cards

EPA cares much more about the “Clean Power Plan” (CPP), which establishes carbon dioxide (CO2) emission standards for existing power plants, than about the “Carbon Pollution Standards” rule, which establishes CO2 emission standards for new power plants. EPA’s objective is to kill coal-based power, and due to low natural gas prices and other EPA regulations, few new coal power plants are expected to be built in any event.

In contrast, the CPP empowers EPA to restructure the U.S. electric supply system, usurping legislative authority from both Congress and State governments. What’s more, the CPP accounts for the largest component of President Obama’s emission-reduction pledge (the U.S. “intended nationally determined contribution,” or INDC) in the COP21 Paris climate treaty negotiations.

The CPP, however, presupposes a valid “Carbon Pollution Standards” rule as its legal prerequisite. Under §111 of Clean Air Act, EPA may not promulgate emission performance standards for existing sources unless it first (or concurrently) promulgates performance standards for new sources.

So if Congress or courts overturn the “Carbon Pollution Standards” rule, that would also upend the CPP, which in turn would gut the U.S. INDC, scuttling COP21 (which may be doomed anyway).

CCS Poster Child: Setbacks, Delays, Losses

The “Carbon Pollution Standards” rule is based on the conceit that carbon capture and storage (CCS) is the “adequately demonstrated” (commercially viable) best system of emission reductions (BSER) for new coal-fired power plants. In his floor statement and recent letter to administrator McCarthy, Manchin cites press reports showing that the Boundary Dam Power Station in Saskatchewan — the CCS project on which EPA chiefly relies in the final rule for its “adequately demonstrated” determination — is beset with performance problems, delays, and financial losses:

The EPA has based its final rule for new coal-fired power plants in the United States largely on a still-developing power plant unit in Canada, which is called the Boundary Dam CCS Project. The EPA asserted in the final rule that the Boundary Dam facility has been operating full carbon capture sequestration successfully at a commercial scale since October 2014. That is found to be totally untrue. Canadian press reports have recently disclosed that the Boundary Dam project has failed to operate successfully at full CCS for any meaningful period of time.

The reports also identify the CCS system of the demonstration plant as being a key issue in the delays for getting the plant up and running. After 1 year of operation, the project was forced to replace certain important features at a cost of $60 million. There have always been nearly $23 million in nonperformance penalties and lost revenues.

The plant’s management company, which is SaskPower, has acknowledged these recent reports and are now pushing back the project’s operational date to the end of 2016, but there are no guarantees this will prove true either.

SaskPower is also claiming that the project will need at least a year of stable operation to prove the technical operation and the economics of the project, which would aid in determining commercial viability. SaskPower has announced it will not be able to make an informed decision about carbon capture sequestration until 2018. Yet the EPA here in the United States of America is demanding that all U.S. coal-fired generation industry implement this technology now. That is what I have said all along: If it is not obtainable, which it has not been—we have not spent the money trying to develop this technology, and it hasn’t worked—shouldn’t we at least make sure it works before we force a complete overhaul of the system or people to meet standards that are unobtainable?

Manchin concludes: “These recent revelations prove that CCS is still technically unproven and still potentially damaging in a power plant application. Therefore, it is foolish for this administration to require it now for new U.S. coal plants.” 

References supporting those statements are in Manchin’s Nov. 10 letter to McCarthy. Since the links are inactive in the PDF of Manchin’s letter, I provide those and a few others below.


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