Saturday, April 13, was set to be the day for the Environmental Protection Agency to release final regulations limiting carbon pollution from new power plants. April 13 came and went, however, with no final regulations from EPA. Instead, on Friday April 12, EPA announced that it would delay issuance of the final rule – but gave no hint as to when the final rule would actually issue. This type of regulatory uncertainty places new coal plant developers and financiers in a world of uncertainty – a world with which the hopeful developers of Plant Washington in Georgia are becoming all too familiar.
Power4Georgian‘s Plant Washington project, planned for location in Washington County, Georgia, is already being viewed as an ill-advised investment by potential backers. Much of that investor trepidation arises from the continued uncertainty about the exact carbon emission limits and timing with which new coal plants would have to comply. In order to be grandfathered-in and avoid regulation, Plant Washington will have to show evidence that “demonstrable construction progress” was begun by April 13, 2013. Although it remains to be seen whether Power4Georgian’s could convince EPA it meets this “transitional source” provision, it seems challenging at best that they could overcome all the obstacles in the way to avoiding compliance with EPA’s final carbon pollution regulations. With the current construction design it will be impossible for Plant Washington to meet carbon pollution limits that are as stringent as those in EPA’s proposed carbon pollution rule.
The proposed rule limits carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants to 1,000 lbs per megawatt-hour; a compliance limit easily met by most new natural gas plants but almost impossible to meet for traditional-style pulverized coal plants – even new ones. Even using the most current technology, new coal plants emit nearly twice as much carbon per unit as a natural gas plant. EPA issued the proposed version of the rule on March 27, 2012 and held two public hearings, after which they opened an obligatory 30-day public comment period on the proposed regulation. EPA received over 2 million public comments on the proposed rule – clearly, a lot of people were paying attention.
While EPA has provided no exact reason for its latest regulatory delay, they claim to be working to ensure that each issue raised in the public comment period is addressed in the final regulation. Faced with a heightened amount of scrutiny from both industry and environmental groups, they are wise to take care in drafting these carbon regulations, but neither industry nor environmentalists will be satisfied if EPA continues to practice the art of delay.
Given this delay for regulating carbon from new power plants, it’s safe to say the road to strong, enforceable regulations limiting carbon pollution from existing power plants will also be a bumpy one – to say the least.