Analyzing the Issue from Both Sides
The recent EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) ruling regarding the future requirements for the energy industry to build new power plants in the U.S. has reinvigorated the issue of “clean” energy. Both the environmental groups and the interest groups and executives representing the energy industry have very strong feelings on this issue. This article will explain the ruling, compare the new requirements to the current standards used in the energy industry and detail the potential ramifications of the changes as they would impact the consumer.
The EPA announced a ruling where the amount of heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants would be capped (www.usatoday.com). The coal-fired plants will not meet this new standard without costly technology enhancements to capture and store carbon emissions.
This new technology is called the Carbon Capture and Sequestration (C.C.S.) system. This technology has never been used in a coal plant, though two plants with this technology are currently under construction in Canada (www.usatoday.com).
Two sides to the issue
The EPA stated in the announcement that the cap on the emissions from these power plants is a “necessary step to address a public health challenge”.
The coal industry responded, and it was widely reported in the media, that it is not legal for the EPA to require the use of technology that is commercially unproven.
The coal industry leaders continued by explaining that the EPA usually requires that new technology be cost effective and that the C.C.S. system is not cost effective (www.usatoday.com).
I have a vested interest in the environment, and these statements and reports in the media clearly signal to me a growing potential conflict between the EPA and the coal industry.
In my past dealings with the EPA, I have found their representatives to be very fair and professional. I found that I generally agree with their assessments regarding the changes we need to make to our business practices to increase sustainability. The agency has made great strides to improve the compliance of the federal government with regard to their product procurement protocols by introducing more green alternative products into the purchasing system.
The C.C.S. System
The C.C.S. system is a technology which utilizes equipment to capture the greenhouse gas emissions. It then compresses the captured carbon. Then, the compressed material is sequestered by being transported via pipeline and stored underground (www.usatoday.com).
The energy industry is balking at the price tag associated with the installation of the C.C.S. system, and the EPA maintains that the government will not allow the construction of new power plants without this system in place.
The EPA cap on the emissions from power plants is now being set at 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour (www.usatoday.com). The measurement for emissions for a new power plant without the C.C.S. technology is 1,800 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour.
Therefore, every new plant is going to be required to install the C.C.S. technology in order to be compliant with the new emissions cap. The coal industry intends to take legal action to fight this new emissions ruling.
The coal industry has stated to the USA Today that the C.C.S. rules will lead to coal plant closures and a halt in new coal plant construction. This combination will lead to higher electric bills for the consumer.
It is widely known that the coal plants are responsible for the majority of electric energy produced in the U.S. and that this ruling from the EPA could have a drastic effect on the supply of that energy, which will lead to an increase in electric energy prices.
This is a potentially contentious issue because you have the EPA, which is clearly trying to follow their mandate and enforce some type of standards to limit the amount of carbon emissions from these plants. Those same carbon emissions can have a dramatic impact on the environment and our ecosystems.
The energy industry has some reservations about the cost and also the implementation and the effectiveness of the C.C.S. technology. They contend that they could install this system and it may not work to adequately address the issue, and they could be then forced to pass along some of the install costs to the consumer.
The consumers are caught in the middle and many are dealing with rising costs for everything, flat wages, a sluggish economy, and many are also concerned with our environment. Now, those consumers are going to be told that the cost of electricity could increase, and that will have a dramatic impact on their everyday lives.
I am very concerned about the environment, and I think the carbon emissions cap is a good idea. I think the federal and state governments need to get involved and mediate this situation to protect the environment, make sure that the new technology works by incentivizing a few plants to install the equipment, and to protect the consumer from an increase in energy costs.
This is an issue that concerns our environmental sustainability and could have big implications on how we continue to consume energy for our everyday living activities. I hope a resolution can be reached that will be satisfactory to all parties involved. If not, we are all in for some long, difficult days ahead.