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New coal plants must limit carbon pollution under EPA plan

| Friday, Sept. 20, 2013, 11:12 a.m.

New coal-burning plants will be required to limit carbon dioxide they release under Environmental Protection Agency regulations aimed at curbing climate change by utilities, despite protests that they would dim the future of coal.

The EPA issued the draft rules on Friday, meeting a deadline President Obama set in an address on climate change in June. The proposal effectively requires coal-fired plants to capture and store underground a portion of the carbon dioxide they produce, something the industry says is costly and would stop construction of new plants.

“This is a dangerous and unnecessary action at a time when the U.S. continues to sluggishly inch toward economic recovery,” Consol Energy Inc. said in a statement issued by spokeswoman Lynn Seay. Cecil-based Consol is the nation's third-largest coal producer.

“The President is legislating through regulatory bodies on an issue where Congress and the American people have repeatedly rejected his chosen path,” the statement read. “Poll after poll shows that the public prioritizes jobs, the economy and skyrocketing debt as the defining issues of our time, yet the administration continues to move in a direction that will have no measurable impact on the stated goal of reductions in global (carbon dioxide) concentrations.”

Coal, which is struggling to compete with cheap natural gas, accounts for 40 percent of electricity production, a share that's been shrinking. And natural gas would need no additional pollution controls to comply.

“It is clear that the EPA is continuing to move forward with a strategy that will write off our huge, secure, affordable coal resources by essentially outlawing the construction of new coal plants,” said Bruce Josten, vice president for government affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a speech on Friday to announce the proposal that rather than damage an industry, the proposed regulations would help the industry grow.

“Climate change — caused by carbon pollution — is one of the most significant public health threats of our time. That's why EPA has been called to action,” McCarthy said.

The EPA's move sets the stage for a set of final rules governing emissions from existing power plants, due by June 2014.

While restrictions on emissions of sulfur dioxide and other pollutants have been in place for years, these will be the first for gases most blamed for global warming.

“The most important thing about the new plant rule is that it's crossing the Rubicon to say that we are going to put limits on carbon pollution,” said David Goldston, government affairs director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, a New York-based environmental group. “It's important as a precursor” for existing plant rules.

Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, said the EPA regulation “isn't technically achievable, but more importantly, even if it was, the result would turn off 40 percent of our energy, which is pure insanity. This rule, which completely bypassed Congress, proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the administration wants to eliminate American coal as a fuel source.”

Murphy said the proposed rules could eliminate thousands of jobs a year for Southwest Pennsylvania miners and factory workers.

As chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Murphy authored legislation, which passed the House, that would prohibit the use of the EPA regulations until Congress reviews the issue.

FirstEnergy Corp.'s Mitchell Power Station in Washington County, in Murphy's 18th District, is one of two large, coal-fired power plants in Western Pennsylvania the company wants to close on Oct. 9, in part because of the expense needed to retrofit them to meet more stringent emissions standards.

The Mitchell and the Hatfield's Ferry Power Station in Greene County generate a combined 2,080 megawatts, a tenth of the company's total capacity, and employ 380 workers. One megawatt can power 800 homes.

Limits for new coal-fired plants would be 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide for each megawatt hour of power they produce, a standard that can't be met without carbon capture technology, McCarthy said.

Most gas plants would need to meet a 1,000 pound standard, which won't require new technology.

McCarthy said the law gives the agency a year to finalize the rule, and she vowed to consider all comments the agency receives on the proposal.

Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, said, “The way for coal to have a future is technology.”

Carbon capture technology has been demonstrated as feasible at large-scale power plants but expensive. There must be a market for the carbon, instead of just pumping it underground, for the technology to work financially.

Bloomberg News, The Associated Press and Trib Total Media staff writer John D. Oravecz contributed to this report. He can be reached at 412-320-7882 or joravecz@tribweb.com.

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