A Good First Step
Environmentalists Win Big EPA Ruling
By Bryan Walsh
Thursday, Nov. 13, 2008
Environmentalists have long known that when it comes to climate change, coal will be a dealbreaker. The carbon-intensive fossil fuel provides nearly half of the United States' electricity, and is responsible for some 30% of the country's greenhouse gas emissions.
That's just due to the coal plants already operating — as the U.S. looks to expand its energy supply to meet rising demand in the future, over 100 coal plants are in various stages of development around the country. If those plants are built without the means to capture and sequester underground the carbon they emit — and it's far from clear that such technology will be commercially viable in the near-term — our ambitious goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and avert climate change will be meaningless.
That's why a decision issued on Thursday by the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Environmental Appeals Board is so important. Responding to a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club over a new coal plant being build on American Indian reservation land in Utah, the board ruled that the EPA has no valid reason to refuse to regulate the CO2 emissions that come from new coal-powered plants.
The decision pointed to a May 2007 ruling by the Supreme Court that recognized CO2, the main cause of climate change, is indeed a pollutant under the federal Clean Air Act and therefore needs to be regulated by the EPA. In the months since that landmark decision, the EPA — with the support of the Bush Administration — has doggedly refuse to regulate CO2, much to the dismay of environmentalists.
The board's decision will force the EPA to consider CO2 when issuing permits for new power plants, potentially making it — at least in the short-term — all but impossible to certify new coal power plants. That's because the EPA will need to reconfigure its rules on dealing with CO2, which is found in greater concentrations in coal than any other fossil fuel, that force plants in the permitting process to be reevaluated, delaying them for months or longer.
"In a nutshell it sends [new plants] back to the drawing board to address their CO2 emissions," says Bruce Nilles, director of the Sierra Club's National Clean Coal campaign. "In the short term it freezes the coal industry in its tracks." (clip)
That effectively punts the future of coal in America to President-elect Barack Obama's incoming Administration. It's not yet clear how he'll act, but his renewable energy advisor Jason Grumet has said that Obama would be willing to use the EPA to directly regulate CO2 — something President George W. Bush has refused to do.
"This lays the groundwork for Obama to move quickly to put in place a regulatory system and begin to achieve CO2 reduction and build that clean, 21st century economy he talks about," says Nilles." (more)
Earlier today I was in a meeting with some of our leading environmentalists and consumer activists. I asked one of them if he knew about yesterday's decision.
However, he said there was a loophole.
Corporate lawyers at Jones Day have said that this was more of a punt.
Still, my enviro friend was clearly pleased.
sounds like a reasonable goal to set,
A global freeze on new coal plants
is a good first step.
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Labels: climate change