Monday, November 17, 2008

Coal Plants Must Limit CO2

Last week the EPA's Environmental Appeals Board ruled that new and proposed coal-fired power must limit CO2 emmissions.

From Bleeding Heartland...

In a move that signals the start of the our clean energy future, the Environmental Protection Agency's Environmental Appeals Board (EAB) ruled today EPA had no valid reason for refusing to limit from new coal-fired power plants the carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming.  The decision means that all new and proposed coal plants nationwide must go back and address their carbon dioxide emissions.

"Today's decision opens the way for meaningful action to fight global warming and is a major step in bringing about a clean energy economy," said Joanne Spalding, Sierra Club Senior Attorney who argued the case. "This is one more sign that we must begin repowering, refueling and rebuilding America."

"The EAB rejected every Bush Administration excuse for failing to regulate the largest source of greenhouse gases in the United States.  This decision gives the Obama Administration a clean slate to begin building our clean energy economy for the 21st century," continued Spalding The decision follows a 2007 Supreme Court ruling recognizing carbon dioxide, the principle source of global warming, is a pollutant under the federal Clean Air Act.

The ruling seems that it will affect the two proposed coal plants in Marshalltown and Waterloo since the Iowa DNR must enforce EPA guidelines or have more stringent guidelines in place.

The EAB decision is formally binding on all air quality permits issued by the EPA.  However, most air quality permits are not issued by the EPA but rather by state authorities delegated that power by the EPA, for instance the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.  However, those authorities must enforce regulations at least as stringently as the EPA and all of them look to the EPA for guidance on issues such as this.  So it is probable that every coal plant air quality permit in the country from now on (including those issued but still being challenged on carbon dioxide grounds) must address CO2 limits directly, either establishing a limit or justifying their refusal in a new way that the EPA has not previously used.  It is likely a de-facto stay on all air quality permit decisions for approximately the next 6-12 months, including proposed coal plants in Waterloo and Marshalltown that have not been issued air quality permits.

The DNR was supposed to decide on the Marshalltown permit early this fall.  They haven't even opened up the public comment period, which was supposed to take place in August.  Now it sounds like the DNR won't be making a decision until early summer at the earliest.

Today's coal plants are cleaner than the ones from th 1950's, but the techonology isn't there yet to capture coal.  The plant in Marshalltown is supposed to have the highest techology available, yet no carbon or mercury was going to be captured.  

Matt Stoller has more on how the EPA's decision will test the clean coal technology...

One of the claims of the coal industry - that there's some capacity to use coal without emitting carbon dioxide using fancy new technology - is about to be tested in a big way.  One sign to look for is squealing; if the industry gets very upset, it means they weren't really telling the truth about the ability to use clean coal technology in the first place.  If they don't squeal, then it looks like we're going to get a whole bunch of coal plants that don't emit carbon.

This could be a chance for Democratic Leaders to be ahead of the curve and propose huge investments in renewable energy in the state.  The Alliant plant in Marshalltown was going to cost $1 billion.  Maybe an agreement could be made between leaders at the statehouse and Alliant to invest that money in wind, geothermal, and other renewable energy technology in the state.


desmoinesdem said...

I have heard conflicting things on the timetable for the DNR's ruling on the air permit for the Marshalltown facility. Not everyone agrees with Sierra Club on how much this will delay the process.

I think any delay has to be a good thing, though.

noneed4thneed said...

I know that the public comment period was supposed to begin between mid-August and early September. It hasn't begun yet.

I've heard the flooding might have had something to do with the delay.

I attended an informational meeting earlier in the year that laid out what the DNR was specifically looking into and the time frame.