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.

Dustin Bleizeffer

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 dustin@wyofile.com. Follow Dustin on Twitter at @DBleizeffer

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Dustin Bleizeffer

Dustin Bleizeffer is a Report for America Corps member covering energy and climate at WyoFile. He has worked as a coal miner, an oilfield mechanic, and for 22 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

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  1. Actually you are referring to these two studies. One doesn’t mention sea level rise the other makes possible predictions of 4″ per century over the next 800 years.
    Yes, you are right, weather is not climate, except when it is bad weather, then its climate changing.
    enjoy

    One study was published in Geophysical Research Letters (GRL) and titled “Sustained increase in ice discharge from the Amundsen Sea Embayment, West Antarctica, from 1973 to 2013“. This study is available here:

    http://www.ess.uci.edu/researchgrp/erignot/files/grl51433.pdf

    The second study was published in Science and titled “Marine Ice Sheet Collapse Potentially Under Way for the Thwaites Glacier Basin, West Antarctica“. This study is available here:

    http://sciences.blogs.liberation.fr/files/glacier-thwaites.pdf

    Both studies evaluate the relatively recent melt rate history of these glaciers with one focusing on the use observed satellite data to estimate melt rate behavior while the other uses computer models to estimate melt rate behavior.

    Our snow is also retreating slowly and you got the genus right.

  2. @lousewort rodgers The melting that Tom refers to is of the Amundsen glacier. You are correct — its reported the Antarctic’s sea ice is at a 35 year high. That does not imply that the data and conclusions projected about glacial melt (also widely reported in the last few days and referenced by Tom) are incorrect. Sea ice and glaciers are quite different, as are weather and climate. To draw conclusions about climate change based on sea ice or today’s weather is not relevant. Sorry. Hope the pedicularis in your area are on display!

  3. Tom; The media forgot this. Have a good spring. hope the wildflowers are starting to bloom.

    Antarctic sea ice has expanded to record levels for April, increasing by more than 110,000sq km a day last month to nine million square kilometres.
    The National Snow and Ice Data Centre said the rapid expansion had continued into May and the seasonal cover was now bigger than the record “by a significant margin’’.
    “This exceeds the past record for the satellite era by about 320,000sq km, which was set in April 2008,’’ the centre said.

  4. We are too late. Just this a.m. a new report on the melting of Antarctica shows just how close we are to catastrophe. Are we just going to sit and wait for the water to cover most of Florida? We might as well as far as our great Governor and most Wyomingites are concerned.
    From what I see and am learning, we are not able as a culture and a society to forestall what I see coming as a Hell on Earth. We missed the boat about the time of Jimmy Carter. I grieve for Planet Earth and all its passengers.

  5. imaginary technologies suite, sonata, or cantata. The high plains gasifier died because of the great recession and global re-examination of co2 hysteria.

  6. In his press conference today, Governor Mead described industry as being willing to “stair-step” up with the EPA on regulations that would, presumably, provide the certainty that coal-fired generation and its beneficiaries crave. The fact is that certainty was in place years ago when GE partnered with Wyoming on the high plains gasifier. Since then it has been systematically and willfully destroyed by special interests enabled by a polarized politic that only aspires to the status quo. There is a price to be paid for climate change, and like so many other costs it is being deferred to and imposed on future generations by mine. While CO2 capture and use are likely one part of the solution, it should not distract us from the real opportunity which is to create a suite of technologies that when combined will truly diversify our energy generation portfolio. Imagine a world where large scale industrial processes are powered by abundant (and cleansed) fossil fuels while the transportation and residential sectors are powered by what today are alternatives (equally abundant) but tomorrow would be the obvious and most cost-effective choice.

  7. While the United States slashes its hydrocarbon use, job creation, economic growth and international competitiveness, China, India, Brazil, Indonesia – and Spain, Germany, France and Great Britain – are all increasing their coal use … and CO2 emissions. but who gives a shit, the sierra tea club parties, ..comedians, absurdly expensive health care and non-partisan journalists will save us. Wyoming is better than that.

  8. I think it would be wise for Wyoming to work on diversified economy rather than putting all their eggs in one basket with coal. The majority of climate deniers want to ignore the overwhelming science based evidence that coal and other fossil fuels will have lasting negative impacts on our air, water, wildlife, agriculture, and weather patterns. Though ,as one poster already mentioned, China and other up and coming nations are the primary polluters, we still need to do our part to reduce our own emissions. We should be striving to become leaders in developing clean energy technology rather than clinging to old ways that will make a handful of people rich and leave the rest of us with lasting problems. This is not a China problem, an India problem, or a U.S. problem , but a global problem. Mead needs to look beyond his own backyard and see the big picture.

  9. Will the nanny-state help the governor ? The EPA is toothless, and the corporate courts are blocking the 90% who have noticed changes in global weather. No one at EPA can make sense of your appeal, governor. Are the 25 daily coal trains from Black Thunder Mine still getting 385 million tonnes of coal every year ? http://goo.gl/aGWHHQ But wait, yesterday you told ABC you are suing the EPA ? You attack the regulatory agency that protects us ? Who are your working for ? Who pays you for this ?

  10. Of course he doesn’t mention anthropogenic climate change, he doesn’t believe it exists.

  11. Rather than turn red im the face and rail at the EPA for his delusional notion of a ” War on Coal ” , Governor Mead needs to sit down with the execs of the coal industry and get some honest answers on their intentions for Wyoming is the coal market goes very, very soft in coming years.

    It is now time that we envision a future Wyoming that has only a modicum of coal mining. Coal is a fossil fuel ; a relic of the past ; more of a longterm liability to the planet with each scoop shovel of the dirty black rock than a short term source of thermal units and money.

    Wyoming without coal : What does THAT look like, Matt? And what are you doing about it , besides crippling Common Core and denying Next Generation Science Standards ? Are the terms ” alternative energy , solar power, wind power” even in your frontal lobes these days ? Would you consider raising the severance tax on coal back to its former rate to help bridge the economic gap tha leads to new Wyoming ? Checked your future watershed and Wyoming water supply prognostications lately ?

    So many policy questions not being asked, let alone acted on. Just more volleys of flaming rhetoric fired off at the EPA. As if you can force the rest of the globe to buy more Wyoming coal by neutering the EPA , or something.

    Wyoming: We’re 500,000 Against The World. ( World wins ).

  12. The Obama Administration’s just-released National Climate Assessment report leaves the impression that if we don’t quickly launch into action to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases (primarily by shifting away from using fossil fuels), we will be inundated by an endless flow of misfortune unleashed by the ensuing climate change. The flood has already begun.

    Nothing could be further from the truth.

    First, the assessment report frequently confuses climate with climate change. The natural climate of the United States is constantly overflowing with extreme weather hazards of all sorts — hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, floods, blizzards, heat waves, hard freezes and on and on. It’s the norm. The assessment would have you think that every time one of these types of events happens, now or in the future, it is because we are emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Such a conclusion is a stretch and has never been proven. A thorough review of climate science would demonstrate that the impact of human-caused climate change on the behavior of most types of extreme weather is poorly understood. Instead, the vagaries of climate dominate our experiences.

    Second, greenhouse gas emissions from the United States have a truly minimal and diminishing effect on the future course of the Earth’s climate. Rather, that course is being set by developing nations such as China and, soon, India. Research has shown that eliminating all greenhouse gas emissions from the United States now and forever only mitigates less than two-tenths of a one degree of warming by the end of the century — but the cost to do so would hurt our economy dearly. Few folks are willing to pay such a price for no measureable return.

    Third, a growing body of scientific evidence — which is based in observations rather than climate models — strongly suggests that future climate change is going to be smaller than we are commonly told in reports such as this National Climate Assessment or those from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This means that reducing carbon-dioxide emissions from the United States will have even less of an impact than the tiny number mentioned above.

    Finally, suggesting that we will be overwhelmed by negative impacts from climate change ignores our demonstrated human ability to respond to environmental challenges. A changing climate is only filled with negatives if we sit unresponsive and let it sweep over us. However, such an outcome is completely at odds with human civilization. The National Climate Assessment seems to sparingly recognize this fact, but then is quick to dismiss it as a way forward.

    A glaring example concerns the death toll from heat waves. The assessment tells us that incidents of extreme heat have become more common and longer-lasting, and that we should expect the trend to continue into the future (until presumably that we stop emitting greenhouse gases). The report recognizes that “[s]ome of the risks of heat-related sickness and death have diminished in recent decades, possibly due to better forecasting, heat-health early warning systems, and/or increased access to air conditioning for the U.S. population.” It ignores those findings, though, to conclude “increasingly frequent and intense heat events lead to more heat-related illnesses and deaths.” This is not only a non sequitur but it is also completely wrong.

    Scientific literature is chock full of studies that demonstrate that the population’s sensitivity to extreme heat is decreasing, resulting in lower rates of people dying during heat waves. This is true across the United States and in major cities around the world. A new paper by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health examined trends in heat-related mortality across the United States and concluded “[t]his study provides strong evidence that acute (e.g., same-day) heat-related mortality risk has declined over time in the U.S., even in more recent years.” Another recent look into heat-related mortality published in the prominent science journal Nature Climate Change concluded that “climate change itself leads to adaptation” a finding that “highlights one of the many often overlooked intricacies of the human response to climate change.” Such an observation applies directly to the National Climate Assessment.

    Let’s get one thing clear: The National Climate Assessment is a political call to action document meant for the president’s left-leaning constituency. What pretense of scientific support that decorates it quickly falls away under a close and critical inspection.

    Perhaps most telling is the letter to the members of Congress that introduces the just-released report, co-signed by White House Science Adviser John Holdren and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration head Kathryn Sullivan. The letter concludes, “When President Obama launched his Climate Action Plan last year, he made clear that the essential information contained in this report would be used by the Executive Branch to underpin future policies and decisions to better understand and manage the risks of climate change.”

    When the president launched his Climate Action Plan last year, the National Climate Assessment was still being revised and reviewed. Yet somehow, the president already knew that it would help his environmental agenda and imminent executive actions on the issue. It seems the message was preordained — the mark of politics trumping science.