In January, EPA proposed the Carbon Pollution Standard, a regulation that requires new coal-fired power plants to install carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology. Because CCS is not yet commercially viable, it is prohibitively expensive. As a result, EPA’s Carbon Pollution Standard effectively bans the construction of new coal-fired power plants.
Without further ado, here are the top six reasons that EPA’s proposed Carbon Pollution Standard is illegal:
#6. EPA’s Carbon Pollution Standard increases conventional pollution.
Capturing, transporting, and sequestering greenhouse gases from a power plant is an energy-intensive process that leads to a general energy penalty varying on the order of 15-25%. This energy penalty requires the additional consumption of fuel, which increases conventional pollution. While there are technologies to mitigate increases in nitrogen oxides and particulate matter pollution, nothing can mitigate a precipitous increase in emissions of ammonia pollution (see chart below) caused by use of carbon capture and sequestration. Also, because CCS-outfitted power plants use more fuel, they generate greater volumes of combustion wastes, primarily coal ash and boiler slag. Increases in conventional pollution, per se, don’t sink the Carbon Pollution Standard, but the Agency must address these adverse environmental impacts, at the very least. See Sierra Club v. Costle, 657 F. 2d 298, at 331. The proposed Carbon Pollution Standard fails to do so.
The Clean Air Act requires that the Carbon Pollution Standard be based on an “adequately demonstrated” technology, which the courts have interpreted as being “commercially demonstrated.” In a recent post for Master Resource, I compared the state of CCS technology today to past pollution control technologies whose commercial viability was adjudicated by the courts. The results of this analysis are summarized in the chart below and demonstrate that CCS is not “adequately demonstrated.”
In addition to requiring that the Carbon Pollution Standard be based on an “adequately demonstrated” (i.e., commercially viable) technology, the Clean Air Act requires that the regulation must be “achievable.” The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, in turn, has interpreted “achievability” to mean that the regulation is capable of being met in all parts of the country. See National Lime Association V. EPA, 627 F. 2d 416 at 443. This is a problem for the EPA, because the types of geological formations that are capable of storing vast volumes of greenhouse gases for sequestration are distributed unevenly throughout the country. Indeed, the agency identified only 12 States that practice the type of sequestration (enhanced oil recovery) that EPA believes will meet the requirements of the Carbon Pollution Standard.