Archive for the ‘coal’ Tag

Future of Energy   Leave a comment

Coal is abundant and energy dense, compared to most other fuel sources so coal is most-likely America’s fuel of the future. Yes, coal can be dirty and its reputation for turning skis orange is well-deserved. Modern technology, however, has changed coal electric generation to a clean generation source. The US power industry has invested about $90 BILLION since 1990 to deploy clean coal technologies that reduce air emissions while also providing affordable, reliable electricity to meet growing energy needs.

Clean coal technology is real and current. When Congress first coined the term “clean coal technology” in the mid-1980s, the American Coalition of Clean Coal Electricity had not yet been formed. Congress defined the phrase to mean technologies that reduced sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions. The term’s definition has expanded since then to include technologies that improve the environmental performance of coal-based electricity plants, increasing the operational efficiency of power plants while also reducing emissions.

I’m not convinced that industries and utilities should be working to reduce CO2 emissions, but technologies are being developed to do just that. Where these technologies result in more efficient operation of the plants, I am entirely in favor of them. Where they drive up the cost of electricity to the consumer, I object.

But when looking at the issue of coal and making a case for not overregulating it, it is necessary to explain that “Yes! Clean coal does exist and we can use it to produce electricity at an affordable price while protecting the environment.”

The very fact that the EPA’s own records shows the air quality improving so much should be evidence that we’re not on the edge of an environmental disaster where coal is a primary culprit.

Can we now stop panicking and running around like Chicken Little proclaiming the sky is falling?

Oh, right, the ruling class wouldn’t want us to start thinking we don’t need them any longer.

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.

Shuttering Coal Mines   Leave a comment

The attack on coal reaches well beyond power plant construction and operation. Although not a new problem, starting new coal mining operations or expanding existing operations has become increasingly difficult. Coal mining operations are subject to 10 federal environmental laws plus state requirements and regulations. Furthermore, environmental regulations have been implemented in extreme, subjective, and contradictory ways that delay and restrict access to critical energy sources, preventing the creation of new jobs, destroying existing jobs, and providing little to no environmental benefit.

coal miner photo: My coal Miner mycoalminerLargeWebview.jpgUnder Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, the Army Corps of Engineers administers permits for activities including coal mining that discharge dredge or fill material into U.S. waters and wetlands. The EPA also reviews, comments, and can veto the permit application. The EPA is abusing its ability to place holds on permit applications.

In an unprecedented move, in January 2011, the EPA revoked a water permit issued by the Army Corps of Engineers in 2007 for a West Virginia mine. On October 6, 2011, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia struck down those EPA procedures stating that the “EPA has expanded its role in the issuance of Section 404 permits and has thus exceeded the statutory authority afforded to it by the Clean Water Act.” On March 23, 2012, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia rejected the EPA’s attempt to retroactively veto the dredge-and-fill permit, allowing the people of Mingo Logan Coal to go back to work: “This attempt to withdraw the specification of discharge sites after a permit has been issued is unprecedented in the history of the Clean Water Act.” The court went on to find that the EPA interpretation of the rule was “unreasonable.”

These were important victories in reining in the EPA. Regrettably, environmental groups are urging the EPA to appeal and to continue to usurp the authority of the Army Corps of Engineers and states in issuing water quality permits, which creates uncertainty in the mining industry. The EPA held nearly 200 permit applications—many in the final stages of processing by the Army Corps—in a state of limbo and altered the permit requirements in violation of its authority under the Clean Water Act as determined by the courts.

The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) of 1977 plays an important role in protecting the environment from coal mining and reclaiming abandoned mined lands. It creates regulatory certainty and, for the most part, allows states to tailor regulatory requirements to their regional and local needs. However, proposed federal rules would fundamentally change the federal–state relationship. This is exactly what is occurring with the revised Stream Buffer Zone Rule. From 2003 to 2008, the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) worked with the EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a stream buffer rule to avoid mining activities near streams when possible and to use the best technology available to minimize sediments entering streams to protect fish, wildlife, and water quality. After two environmental impact statements and consideration of 43,000 public comments, the OSM published a final rule, which the Obama Administration attempted to summarily set aside without the required rulemaking procedure. The court ruled the Administration’s action violated the Administrative Procedure Act and OSM must either implement the rule as written or begin a new rulemaking process. The OSM chose to begin writing a new rule, which could significantly reduce coal mining in Appalachia, the Illinois Basin, the Gulf Region, and Alaska. According to the OSM’s own projections, the proposed rule could eliminate 10,749 jobs in Appalachia alone.

coal miner photo: Coal miner hpqscan0001.jpg

The new rule would impose additional permitting and reporting requirements and restrict various mining activities. The rewritten rule also has several serious problems. It only vaguely defines permit requirements, monitoring, and stream classifications, which it applies to both surface and underground mining. It removes flexibility in how companies reclaim mine sites, for instance by requiring reforestation even though wildlife organizations are working with the coal industry to provide grassland habitats for a wide range of species.

The rewritten rule ignores regional differences and the efficient state regulatory work that manages those differences. State and local agencies’ specific knowledge often enables them to tailor regulations to promote economic activity while protecting the habitat and environment. In September 2011, John Corra, director of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, testified before the House Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee that his state has the necessary regulations in place for stream protection and reclamation. Thomas Clarke, director of the West Virginia Division of Mining and Reclamation in the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, echoed this sentiment:

The current OSM rulemaking will diminish the regulatory flexibility that states have in favor of national solutions dictated from Washington. West Virginia has been successful in addressing new issues as they arise, within SMCRA’s regulatory framework.

Coal-Fired Air Quality Facts   6 comments

Drawn from a report by the Institute for Energy Research

Coal-fired electric generation is far cleaner today than ever before, despite the popular misconception that our air quality is getting worse. The EPA’s own data shows this to be untrue. Modern coal plants, and those retrofitted with modern technologies to reduce pollution, are a success story currently providing 50% of our electricity.

Even before Congress passed the Clean Air Act (CAA) Amendments in 1970s, air quality had been improving for decades. Since 1970, coal-fired electric generation has increased 180%, but the six “criteria” pollutants have declined significantly (sulfur dioxide [SO2] by 80%, nitrogen oxides [NOx) emissions by 70%. At the same time gross domestic product increased by 128%, vehicle miles traveled increased by 94%, energy consumption increased by 26%, and population increased by 37%, while aggregate emissions DECREASED by 63%.We produce more energy, drive farther, and live more comfortably than we did in 1970, while enjoying a cleaner environment.

How is that possible? Technology!

According to the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NELT), a new pulverized coal plant reduces emission of NOx by 86%, SO2 by 98%, and particulate matter (PM) by 99.8%.

I think it’s important to note that air quality was improving PRIOR to the CCA of 1970. Why? Businesses saw certain types of pollution as waste and worked to reduce them through technological improvements increasing efficiency and state and local policymakers advanced regulations that reduced pollution. When federal regulation kicked in, the process continued as states to set their own policy for meeting federal emissions standards. Power plants and manufacturers availed themselves of existing technology that has continued to improve and the low-sulfur coal found in abundance in Wyoming.

Believe it or not, coal plant operators like breathing clean air too.

Technology Upgrades Close Coal Plants   1 comment

Beyond the EPA’s regulatory train wreck, a number of other problematic regulations are prematurely shuttering coal facilities and preventing the building of new plants and the expansion of existing ones. Chief among these is New Source Review (NSR), one of the 1977 Clean Air Act amendments. In areas that meet air quality standards, plants must follow Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) rules to demonstrate that the construction and operation of new projects and major modifications will not increase emissions above a specified threshold. In areas that do not meet the NAAQS that NSR requires, new plants must install equipment to achieve the lowest achievable emission rate (LAER), buy emission offsets, and provide opportunity for public involvement.

There are several problems with NSR and PSD. The amendment excludes routine maintenance, repair, and replacement, but what falls under the definition of significant modification is subjective, despite multiple administrative attempts to clarify the meaning. Plant upgrades can improve efficiency and reduce operational costs, thereby lowering electricity costs, increasing reliability, and providing environmental benefits. Nevertheless, NSR requirements for upgrades discourage these activities. Increasing the efficiency of a plant will cause it to run longer and consequently cause the plant’s emissions to rise. NSR does not account for the emission reduction that would occur if a less efficient plant reduced its hours of operation to compensate for increases in operation of a more efficient plant.

The lack of clarification also forces companies into years of litigation over NSR violations. For instance, in 1999, the EPA filed a complaint against Cinergy Corporation, which was later bought by Duke Energy, claiming that modifications to two of the plants at the Gallagher Generating Station in New Albany, Indiana, violated the Nonattainment New Source Review and PSD provisions of the Clean Air Act. Duke maintained that the upgrades were part of the routine maintenance exclusion, but after 10 years of litigation, the company entered into a consent decree to retire two of the plants or convert them to natural gas and to spend $85 million on plant modifications and $6.25 million on environmental mitigation projects, and to pay a $1.75 million civil penalty. In total, power companies have entered into 17 consent decrees with the U.S. Justice Department.

NSR is a vaguely written rule that disincentivizes efficiency improvements.

“A good analogy would be if you put a new carburetor on your 1957 Chevy you would then have to meet all the 2010 air quality standards. Often the cost of the upgrades cost more than the first cost of the plant.” (Robert Peltier, editor in chief of POWER Magazine) 

There are all sorts of ways to promote tyranny in the nation, but raising the basic costs of living beyond tolerable levels is one very effective way to do it. By constantly raising the specter of CO2 emissions and global climate change, the ruling class encourages the public to believe that the environment is being destroyed so therefore, we all must suffer for the good of the planet. But is this really true or is it merely propaganda to get us to participate in our tyranny?

Real Costs of Coal Regulation – Electricity Generation   Leave a comment

The process of removing coal from our electrical generation capacity is already in motion. Energy companies are announcing premature closures of coal plants and are retracting permit applications because of regulations. For instance, Ohio’s FirstEnergy Corporation announced that it will close six coal facilities because of the new environmental regulations. A Georgia utility recently retracted funding for a permit application, citing the EPA’s air quality rules. Here in Alaska, to restart a mothballed clean-coal plant, our local electrical cooperative had to agree to upgrades of an already permitted and operating sister plant. Rate payers will layout more than $50 million in addition to the cost of starting up the new plant.

Some of the EPA’s newly proposed rules will make it prohibitively expensive to build new coal plants. Many of the new rules carry exorbitant costs, provide little to no benefit, or are based on weak scientific and empirical evidence.

Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR). The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule targets pollution that crosses state boundaries, and it aims to reduce sulfur dioxide 73% below 2005 levels and nitrous oxide 54% below 2005 levels by 2014. CSAPR has separate compliance deadlines for 2012 and 2014 and has much more stringent reduction targets and a tighter time frame than the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR), its predecessor rule. Even the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has warned that the CSAPR rule threatens grid reliability.

These costs come with little added environmental benefit. The EPA is ignoring the remarkable achievements in reducing nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions over the past four decades. These advances are largely the result of market-driven technologies, but existing regulations have contributed. Since 1970, coal power plants have reduced sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, and particulate matter (PM) emissions by 84% per kilowatt hour. However, the industry has reached a threshold where the additional emissions reductions are marginal and do not justify the costs. The EPA’s cost estimates are conservative, and its projected health benefits are wildly exaggerated. The EPA approximates annual compliance costs with CSPAR will be $7 billion annually and monetized health benefits will be from $111 to $294 billion annually.

The benefits of increased regulation are not empirically substantiated. The EPA uses outrageous worst-case scenarios, ignores state and local emissions controls, uses outdated data, and models air quality problems using emissions data that contradict actual monitored readings.

“EPA stresses the environmental urgency of this rule intended to help the downwind states attain the federal standards for PM and ozone. Oddly, however, the downwind states targeted in the rule violated the 24-hour fine PM standard less than one-half percent of the time from 2007-2009. In fact, more than 80 percent of the downwind areas CSAPR targets as either currently or at risk of violating the federal standards for ozone or PM already attain the air quality standards in question. EPA, however, still finds risks and calculates the monetized health benefits at emission levels below the federal standards set to protect public health.” (Kathleen Hartnett-White, senior fellow of the Texas Public Policy Foundation)

In other words, additional regulation is unnecessary because emissions are already at acceptable levels.

To make matters worse, the EPA will implement the rule through Federal Implementation Plans (FIPs) rather than the long-standing method of setting emission reduction standards and allowing states to effectively enforce the standards with State Implementation Plans (SIPs). If a state’s emissions cause another state to reach nonattainment, state regulators have the knowledge and flexibility to reduce emissions, but this change would usurp the state’s authority. The EPA’s new targets are unjustifiably onerous and unachievable to the point that many coal-fired plants have already announced layoffs, reduced operations, and permanent closures.

Other regulatory nightmares include:

  • Mercury and Air Toxics Standards
  • Coal Combustion Residues (Coal Ash)
  • National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS)
  • Cooling Water Intake Structures (CWIS)

Taken together, these five new and emerging standards will cost the economy billions of dollars and threaten to shut down vast areas of American manufacturing and energy production, but the most concerning of EPA’s new air-quality regulations have to do with greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA has long ignored the disagreement within the scientific community on classifying carbon dioxide as a pollutant and on the magnitude of anthropogenic (manmade) global warming. Even setting aside the scientific dissention on these two points, the EPA regulations will not reduce carbon dioxide enough to have any meaningful effect. Attempting to reduce carbon dioxide unilaterally will not significantly change overall global emissions. China and India’s carbon dioxide emissions are rapidly increasing as their economies continue to expand, and they have no intention of slowing economic growth to curb emissions. Even if the EPA were to reduce U.S. carbon emissions 83% below 2005 levels by 2050, as mandated by cap-and-trade bills, the reduction would constitute a negligible portion of worldwide emissions and do nothing to impact global temperatures.

21st Century Boogey Man   1 comment

Coal is the 21st century boogey man. Environmentalists are convinced that coal is the most horrible pollutant possible and have convinced communities that they even need to be terrified of shipping coal through their towns, stifling development, sometimes costing those towns many jobs, even their economic vitality.

In Oregon and other Northwest ports, communities are killing projects simply because they fear global warming or have been convinced that they’ll all develop black lung from trains carrying coal on train cars.

The Precautionary Principle insists that if there is any risk whatsoever to a venture it is better not to do it. The miners in Montana and Wyoming should just find jobs at McDonalds: the rail cars can run empty (since we can’t layoff unneeded rail workers), the port workers will never miss the jobs that weren’t created, and Asia should run its factories on solar power because American environmentalists know more about these things than any of them do.

Again, our betters will do our thinking for us. We don’t need no stinking jobs!


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