Coal Solutions   Leave a comment

Congress should change the regulatory landscape for coal mining with several principles in mind. Nobody is saying sensible regulation of the coal industry is not needed. Mining is dangerous and has potential negative environmental impacts. Coal-powered electric generation plants produce pollutants that can and should be mitigated to keep our air healthy. Obviously, regulation is needed, but some regulations are simply unneeded and Congress should prohibit the EPA from implementing such regulations. Other regulations have reached a point of diminishing returns at which further tightening will impose exceedingly high costs on American energy consumers for unnoticeable environmental benefits that are often estimated based on unsound science. State regulators have the incentive to balance economic and environmental well-being and can use local knowledge to manage the interests of all affected parties. Congress and the Administration should:

  • Repeal New Source Review, a bureaucratic mess that prevents plants from operating at optimal efficiency. Repealing it would not only improve plant efficiency and reduce emissions, but also increase power generation to meet U.S. energy needs. Repeal would create incentives for utilities to install technology upgrades to improve plants environmentally and increase electricity supply with new coal, natural gas, or nuclear power plants.
  • Prohibit the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. Realizing the costs and folly of instituting a massive greenhouse gas regulatory regime, members of Congress refused to pass cap-and-trade legislation designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions, but unelected EPA bureaucrats bypassed the legislative process by using regulations under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide. The most effective and comprehensive approach would be to prohibit all federal regulators from using greenhouse gas emissions as a reason to slow or prevent economic activity. Senator John Barrasso (R–WY) has introduced legislation that would prohibit the EPA and other federal regulators from using any environmental act to impose regulations based on climate findings, including the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act. This would “preempt regulation of, action relating to, or consideration of greenhouse gases under Federal and common law on enactment of a Federal policy to mitigate climate change.”
  • Freeze new federal environmental regulations. Controlling the EPA’s six criteria pollutants is important for public health and a combination of technological upgrades and federal and state regulations have achieved extraordinary success in reducing those pollutants. Sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions have steadily declined as coal-powered plants implemented pollution-control technology and more modern plants were built. From 1970 to 2006, total sulfur dioxide emissions per megawatt hour declined 80%. From 1980 to 2006, nitrous oxide emissions per megawatt hour fell 70%. However, the U.S. has reached a point of diminishing returns at which new, more stringent federal regulations for criterion pollutants flunk the cost–benefit test. Congress should freeze new environmental regulations and allow technological innovation to lead emissions reductions.
  • Require congressional approval of major new regulations promulgated by agencies. Under the 1996 Congressional Review Act, Congress can veto new regulations. To date, Congress has successfully used this authority only once: on a Department of Labor rule imposing ergonomics standards in 1993. Requiring congressional approval before any major regulation takes effect would strengthen the review process. The REINS Act, which is still working its way through Congress, would take this approach. Such a system would ensure a congressional check on regulators and require Congress to hold itself accountable.
  • Return power to the states. Federal agencies are seizing the states’ authority and reducing the states’ effectiveness in managing environmental protection. Congress should ensure coal ash is not classified as a hazardous waste and create a system that would allow states to create their own regulatory permit program for coal ash disposal and management. The Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act (H.R. 2273) would do just that. It passed the House in October 2011with overwhelming support. The Senate refused to take it up. Harry Reid who controls which votes go to the Senate floor received $325,000 from the environmental groups opposing the bill to assure it would die without a hearing. Congress should also prevent federal regulators from implementing new stream protection buffer zone rules, cross-state air pollution rules, and cooling water intake structure rules and recognize the states’ abilities to effectively balance environmental protection and economic well-being. Congress should also prevent the EPA from usurping authority from the Army Corps of Engineers and the states in administering Section 404 of the Clean Water Act permits for dredge or fill materials.
  • Restructure and withdraw proposed worker safety rules. The Mine Safety and Health Administration should restructure its proximity detection systems rule to allow more time for installation, correction of malfunctioning devices, and miners to learn the system. The MSHA should also reconsider and ultimately withdraw the proposed rules on the Examinations of Work Areas in Underground Coal Mines and Lowering Miners’ Exposure to Respirable Coal Mine Dust because they are vague, ignore local and regional differences, and take decision making away from the miner. Further, more studies need to be done to understand the contributing factors to pneumoconiosis. The MSHA should also consider reinstating the conference process for citations to remove the backlog of formal hearings and use only citations that have been considered final to identify potential POV mines.
  • Eliminate subsidies for clean coal technologies. Today’s political classification of clean coal technology is misguided. Politicians describe clean coal as coal with technology to significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions, most notably carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. It’s a clear, natural component of the air. It is the ubiquitous and unavoidable by-product of fossil fuel use and naturally occurring events such as volcano eruptions, earthquakes, and breathing. It’s something plants need and the more they get the healthier they are and the faster they grow. Instead of allowing newer, cleaner coal projects to come online, the federal government has wasted taxpayer dollars trying to commercialize CCS. Rather than trying to subsidize a handful of CCS-equipped coal plants, Congress should eliminate all subsidies for “clean” and advanced coal plants and create a regulatory environment that allows newer plants to come online efficiently.

Folks, coal is the future of American energy unless we turn toward nuclear, which doesn’t look likely. It’s cheap, it’s energy dense and it’s local. It can be used cleanly, in an environmentally sound manner, with today’s technology. Call your congressional delegation and ask for sensible regulations on coal and elimination of the insane regulations on C02.

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