EPA Won't Require Carbon Capture for Existing Power Plants, McCarthy Says

By Andrew Childers  

Sept. 23 --The Environmental Protection Agency won't require existing power plants to install systems to capture carbon dioxide when it proposes emissions guidelines for the sector in June 2014, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said.

The revised proposed standards issued Sept. 20 for new fossil fuel-fired power plants would require new coal-fired plants to be built with carbon capture and storage systems.

However, McCarthy said at a Christian Science Monitor forum Sept. 23 that carbon capture isn't practical for existing power plants.

“It's really safe to say, if you read the [proposed] rule, that CCS is really effective as a tool to reduce emissions when it's designed with the facility itself,” McCarthy said. “It's not seen at least at this stage as an add-on that could be used to put on an existing conventional coal facility. In those applications, it doesn't seem that it's appropriate at this stage.”

'Common-Sense Approach.'

Instead, the EPA will look at each state's energy mix as it proposes emissions guidelines for existing power plants that will be administered by state regulators. For existing power plants, McCarthy said the EPA will take a “common-sense approach to looking at not just the facilities but how they fit into this larger energy picture and allow states to do the plans that will be meaningful to them.”

EPA announced its proposed new source performance standards for carbon dioxide from new fossil fuel-fired power plants Sept. 20. The proposal would set a performance standard of 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour for new gas units and 1,100 pounds per megawatt-hour for smaller gas plants and new coal plants. New coal plants would have the options of averaging their emissions over a seven-year period if they agreed to meet a more stringent standard in a range between 1,000 pounds per megawatt-hour and 1,050 pounds per megawatt-hour .

The power plant rules are the centerpiece of President Barack Obama's climate change plan. He has ordered EPA to propose emissions limits for existing power plants by June 2014.

McCarthy Defends Proposed Rule

Although McCarthy said the EPA won't require carbon capture systems for existing plants, she defended the agency's proposal to require them for new coal-fired units. Although no commercial-scale power plant currently operates a carbon capture system, she said the individual components of capturing, transporting and storing carbon dioxide have been effectively demonstrated over several decades.

“CCS is feasible, and it's available,” McCarthy said. “We're not suggesting that it does not add cost to coal compared to conventional coal. But if you're looking at coal being a viable fuel for the future over the next decade when we believe that climate change must be addressed internationally, it does create a path forward.”

In its Sept. 20 proposed rule, EPA cited four power plants currently being built or near construction that will include carbon capture systems. However, attorneys for the power industry raised concerns that the EPA was requiring a technology that has not yet been deployed at commercial scale .

McCarthy said she understand the concerns being raised by the power sector, but she said the EPA's proposal is intended to provide a regulatory framework that will allow new coal-fired power plants to be built as greenhouse gas regulations advance.

“We'll keep working with the coal industry,” McCarthy said. “I understand that there are those that are questioning this, but I ask that they take a look at that technology and take a look at who's moving those technologies forward and take a look at the lack of investment in coal for over the past years and how this just may be an answer to how to keep a positive mix for the existing facilities but how we can get a more certain path forward.”

Several leading Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.), have also expressed concerns about the proposed rule. Republicans said they would consider blocking the performance standards using the Congressional Review Act once the EPA finalizes the rule .


To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Childers in Washington at achilders@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Sullivan in Washington at jsullivan@bna.com