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Coal reps lament EPA standards

| Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013, 1:21 a.m.

Coal industry representatives urged attendees at a conference Monday to lobby their congressmen to try and halt the Environmental Protection Agency's crackdown on carbon pollution.

About 160 people from the coal industry met on the South Side during what many framed as a historic moment for their industry — and not one to celebrate.

“This is about survival, folks, as you heard all day,” said Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, and one of many speakers to decry new federal rules on their way to reduce global warming. “You've got to comment on this stuff – I'm serious – if you have anything to do with the coal business, because they're taking our future away.”

Increased competition from cheap natural gas and coal producers in Canada and Australia and declining demand mean EPA rules could be the final blow for a teetering industry, several speakers at the Platts Coal Marketing Days conference in Station Square said.

The agency is acting under long-expected congressional mandates and increased emphasis from the Obama administration to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions blamed for warming the Earth's temperature in the past 50 years, worsening drought, forest fires and coastal flooding.

Electricity generation accounts for 40 percent of U.S. emissions — and coal has its largest market share — putting it at the top of the list of both the EPA and environmental groups such as the Sierra Club in their bids to address global warming.

Gina McCarthy, the agency's administrator, told a Christian Science Monitor breakfast in Washington on Monday that EPA will issue guidelines for states that allow the use of energy efficiency, clean-energy installations or demand cuts to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions. The EPA issued a proposal for new coal-burning power plants on Sept. 20 that would require the expensive capture technology, called CCS.

“CCS is really effective as a tool to reduce emissions when it's designed with the facility itself,” McCarthy said today. Instead of rules limiting emissions at particular plants, the EPA must use “an extremely different process, and one that requires that EPA has a broader discussion about how states can reduce carbon.”

But it “remains to be seen” whether capture technology is far enough along to meet the legal standard that allows the agency to demand it, said Christine Tezak, managing director for research at the consulting firm ClearView Energy Partners LLC, said at the coal conference. The agency's demands will also surely inflate prices, probably more so than most consumers realize, said Michael Delmar, director of regulated generation and dispatch at FirstEnergy Corp., Western Pennsylvania's largest power supplier.

“There's no war on coal. Technically, it's a police action,” Tezak said, putting a new twist on the rhetoric the industry often uses against the EPA. “Last I checked, you still needed congressional authorization for a war.”

While this Congress hasn't approved the regulations, the EPA is acting under congressional authorization dating to the 1990s and upheld or imposed on the agency during several court fights.

McCarthy rejected predictions that the agency's actions are establishing a de facto ban on the construction of coal-fired power plants.

Gas-fired power is the primary option for builders, largely because the shale boom has made cleaner-burning natural gas so cheap, experts have previously said.

Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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