PI Original Adam Doster Friday November 14th, 2008, 1:10pm

Coal Plants Put On Hold

The coal industry was fired up, so to speak, by Barack Obama's election on November 4. Hailing from a coal-producing state and on record as a supporter of developing "clean coal" technology, insiders think he could revive the industry by pushing for two coal-...

The coal industry was fired up, so to speak, by Barack Obama's election on November 4. Hailing from a coal-producing state and on record as a supporter of developing "clean coal" technology, insiders think he could revive the industry by pushing for two coal-gasification plants in central Illinois -- the $2.1 billion Taylorville Energy Center in Christian County and the $1.8 billion FutureGen project in Matoon.  But as Springfield blogger Will Reynolds noted, a ruling this week from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may negatively impact those prospects.

The agency's Environmental Appeals Board ruled yesterday that the EPA has no valid reason to refuse to regulate the CO2 emissions that come from new coal-powered plants. Bryan Walsh at Time explains the ramifications:

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."

Kate Sheppard at Grist has more. This is a significant victory for the environmentalits, who have fought to ensure CO2 was as rigorously regulated as other pollutants and have been justifiably skeptical of "clean coal" developments. As we've written before, the proposed technology -- which would capture CO2 and store it underground -- is expensive and its feasibility has yet to be proven.  Meanwhile, the energy source itself is filthy and non-renewabale.

Adding insult to injury, Illinois Senate Bill 1987, which the Taylorville developers say is crucial to the plant's construction, was held up during the veto session in Springfield yesterday "after concerns were raised that the plant could result in large increases in business utility bills and undermine efforts to inject competition into the state’s power market." And that was before word got out about the ruling, which could very well stall the Taylorville project indefinitely, as "it does not limit CO2 emissions as proposed in its EPA permit," according to Reynolds.

Image of a Springfield coal power plant used under a Creative Commons license by Flickr user jpmatth.

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