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EPA Takes Action On Carbon Dioxide Emissions

Regulation: Environment agency proposes standards for new coal, natural gas power plants

by Jeff Johnson
September 26, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 39

Credit: Mississippi Power
An advanced coal-fired power plant is being constructed in Kemper County, Miss., by Southern Co.
This is a photo of Mississippi Power’s Kemper plant, under construction, an advanced coal-fired power plant that includes carbon capture and sequestration technologies.
Credit: Mississippi Power
An advanced coal-fired power plant is being constructed in Kemper County, Miss., by Southern Co.

Steps that may lead to a future with much-reduced carbon dioxide emissions from coal and natural gas power plants were put forth in a series of announcements at the end of September by the Environmental Protection Agency.

On Sept. 20, the agency proposed a limit on CO2 emissions from new coal and natural gas power plants. Unlike a previous EPA proposal, issued in April 2012 and later withdrawn, this one sets different standards for coal and gas plants: New large gas-fired plants must meet a limit of 1,000 lb of CO2 per MW-hour, and coal-fired and smaller gas-fired power plants are limited to 1,100 lb per MW-hour. But coal-fired plants can receive an additional seven years to comply if they install technologies resulting in greater emissions reductions.

State-of-the-art gas power plants can already meet the proposed new CO2 emissions standard, EPA officials say. But conventional coal-fired power plants average some 1,800 lb of CO2 per MW-hour. New coal-fired plants could not meet the requirement without using carbon capture and sequestration technologies.

Edison Electric Institute and other electric utility associations say those technologies are “neither adequately demonstrated nor economically feasible.”

But EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy says the standards are “flexible and achievable” and “pave a path forward for the next generation of power plants.” She pointed to several coal-fired power plants under construction that will comply. All but one, however, use coal gasification technologies—also too expensive, the utilities say—to concentrate and capture CO2.

Limits for existing coal- and gas-fired plants—which are responsible for one-third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions—will be proposed in June 2014, McCarthy says. States will lead the way in working with EPA to develop a regulatory approach, and states will implement the regulation, according to EPA. McCarthy says carbon capture technologies are unlikely to be required for existing power plants.

Although environmental groups applaud EPA’s proposal for new power plants, coal-state members of Congress are promising legislation to block the regulation, and attorneys for electric utilities are threatening litigation. The proposal has been posted online for a 60-day comment period.



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