Gov Mead asks EPA to withdraw its greenhouse gas rule for coal
— May 9, 2014
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is set to issue its rule in June to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants, and coal-reliant Wyoming is in trouble.
As the nation’s largest coal supplier for several decades, Wyoming is dangerously reliant on revenues from coal mining to stabilize what is traditionally a boom-and-bust economy. Wyoming depends on coal, oil and natural gas for nearly 70 percent of its annual revenue, and that means the state’s economy rides on the volatile fossil fuel commodities market. Coal mining — the most stable of the fossil fuels — supports 7,000 jobs directly, and thousands more in support services. In 2012, the coal industry contributed some $1.22 billion to state and local governments.
On Friday, Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R) sent a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy asking her to withdraw the agency’s proposed GHG rule. “The EPA continues to stretch its interpretation of its authority under the Clean Air Act (CAA). … This proposed regulation will adversely impact Wyoming’s economy as the leading coal supplier to the United States. It lacks sound reasoning, technological justification and will not provide regulatory certainty.”
Mead’s letter barely gives mention to the underlying goal of reducing GHG emissions from coal-fired power plants; to possibly head off the most devastating human health and environmental impacts of accelerated climate change — which, by the way, is a concern right here in Wyoming where a warming climate is already taking a toll on forests, water, wildlife and many of the state’s other economic drivers. That lack of reference to climate impacts is no surprise given Gov. Mead’s past statements that he is skeptical of the scientific community’s findings that man-caused GHG emissions are a major driver behind climate change. He even gave his blessing to the Wyoming Legislature’s ban on the national Next Generation Science Standards for K-12 students in Wyoming, in part for its acknowledgement of man’s role in climate change.
Coal state governors, the EPA and stakeholders on all sides are preparing for legal battle after the GHG standards are announced next month. Gov. Mead, and anti-regulation proponents, are likely to focus their legal arguments on EPA’s carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology review that is supposed to fulfill an obligation by EPA to justify new CAA standards. They argue CCS is an expensive and yet to be commercialized technology, and doesn’t serve as a reasonable method to meet EPA’s proposed GHG limit of 1,100 pounds per megawatt hour for new coal facilities.
The affect of that standard — if it survives litigation and is ever implemented — will ensure not only that no new coal-fired power plants will be built for the nation’s foreseeable future, but it will force the retirement of aging, inefficient coal-fired power plants, further diminishing Wyoming coal’s U.S. market.
For proponents of curbing GHG emissions from coal, that’s the exact outcome they gladly welcome from the EPA’s new rule. Last week, the White House underscored the newly released findings of the Third U.S. National Climate Assessment. President Barack Obama said the report is proof that climate change isn’t a human health and economic disaster in the distant future, but the affects have already begun to take their toll.
While those dire warnings fall flat with Gov. Mead, Wyoming’s legislature and its congressional delegation, there’s no denying that the state’s fossil fuel backbone — coal — will surely continue to lose favor in its primary market; the U.S.A. For much of the past decade, Wyoming produced well over 400 million tons annually, reaching a high point of 467 million tons in 2008 then falling to just around 400 million in 2012. The continued erosion of the U.S. market for Wyoming coal explains the desperation among the state’s coal producers to open up coal exports to Asian markets.
As Wyoming leaders prepare to battle EPA, they tout investments and progress in the very CCS technologies that Mead said in his letter to EPA are vastly unproven to support the agency’s greenhouse gas rule for coal. “Governor Mead understands the need to develop proven technologies to reduce carbon emissions,” Mead’s office said in a press statement on Friday.
Mead noted that this year the Wyoming Legislature approved a $15 million appropriation to build an “Integrated Test Center to develop and test technologies that will create beneficial uses for CO2 captured from coal-fired power plants.”
“Wyoming is committed to ensuring the long-term viability of fossil fuel resources,” Mead said in the press statement. “Technologies to capture CO2 and process it into value-added products are in early stages. Wyoming is putting resources toward further developing these technologies to provide real world solutions. The EPA should do likewise and start by scuttling this proposal.”
Despite putting some $50 million toward “advanced coal” technologies in recent years, Wyoming doesn’t have a good track record in piloting carbon-reducing technologies toward commercialization. Wyoming’s ill-fated partnership with G.E. to build a $100 million carbon capture testing facility was scuttled by G.E. due to — get this — lack of U.S. regulatory certainty.
While Wyoming leaders oppose GHG regulations from the EPA (even environmentalists say the CAA is a poor mechanism to reduce greenhouse gas emissions), they have also staunchly opposed congressional approaches such as a cap-and-trade or carbon tax strategy. Let the markets drive the technology, they say.
For Wyoming’s economy — and for the world’s climate-prone populations and environment — that approach may be too little too late.
— Dustin Bleizeffer is WyoFile editor-in-chief. He has covered energy and natural resource issues in Wyoming for 15 years. You can reach him at (307) 267-3327 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Dustin on Twitter at @DBleizeffer
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