New coal-fired power plants will have a harder time getting built if they don't include technology that limits carbon emissions under proposed rules released Tuesday by the Environmental Protection Agency.
For the first time, the rules would put national limits on the amount of carbon released by power plants run by natural gas, coal or other fossil fuels. But they would apply only to new plants or plants set to begin construction within the next year.
The rules' effect in Oklahoma is expected to be limited — at least initially — because there are no current plans to build coal or natural gas power plants in the state.
EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said the rules reflect industry moves toward natural gas as the fuel of choice for new electric power plants. The rules will limit future greenhouse gas emissions, she said.
“Right now there are no limits to the amount of carbon pollution that future power plants will be able to put into our skies — and the health and economic threats of a changing climate continue to grow,” Jackson said. “We're putting in place a standard that relies on the use of clean, American-made technology to tackle a challenge that we can't leave to our kids and grandkids.”
Brian Alford, spokesman for Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co., said the utility continues to monitor what he called an uncertain regulatory landscape when it comes to environmental standards.
“This swell of uncertainty is a driving force behind our goal of delaying the need for new, incremental fossil-fired generation until at least 2020,” Alford said. “We're hopeful that by that time, today's regulatory uncertainty will be put to rest, and we can make the appropriate decisions for our customers.”
Coal powers about 45 percent of the nation's electricity, according to the Energy Information Administration. Natural gas makes up 24 percent and nuclear provides 20 percent. The remainder is from wind, hydropower, solar and various biomass fuels.
The proposed rules drew criticism from the coal industry and some lawmakers, including Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe, who believe the EPA is exceeding its authority and favoring other types of fuel for electricity generation. Inhofe said he planned to introduce legislation to halt the proposed regulations.
“So much for President Obama's claims to be for an ‘all-of-the-above' approach — these regulations are designed specifically to kill coal in American electricity generation, which will significantly raise energy prices on American families,” Inhofe said in a statement. “This plan is the most devastating installment in the Obama administration's war on affordable energy: it achieves their cap-and-trade agenda through regulation instead of legislation.”
A 2007 U.S. Supreme Court case gave the EPA the authority to regulate greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide as pollutants under the Clean Air Act.
EPA said about 95 percent of gas-fired power plants would already fall under the proposed annual limit of 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour of electricity generated. On average, coal power plants annually release more than 2,200 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour, according to the EPA.
Jackson said at least 15 coal-fired power plants are expected to begin construction within the next year. She said coal plants could still be built under the new rules, but they would need to include technology that would capture or store carbon.