Environmental Regulation

EPA: Send in Your Comments on Carbon Rule

By Cathy Cash | ECT Staff Writer Published: March 18th, 2014

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy says keep those cards and letters coming.

From left, Sens. John Hoeven and Heidi Heitkamp, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Paul Sukut of Basin Electric. (Photo By: Basin Electric Power Cooperative)

From left, Sens. John Hoeven and Heidi Heitkamp, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Paul Sukut of Basin Electric. (Photo By: Basin Electric Power Cooperative)

EPA wants to hear from industry and consumers on the pending greenhouse gas rules for new and future rules for existing power plants that run on coal. That’s what the EPA chief told a room of coal interests at a recent visit of the Dakota Gasification Co.’s Great Plains Synfuels Plant in Beulah, N.D. The company is a subsidiary of Basin Electric Power Cooperative.

“What I’m asking you to do is do what you’re doing today. Be as honest with us as you can. Send in your comments. We’ll consider those,” McCarthy said during a listening session at the plant. “Frankly, you need to be as upfront as you possibly can on the existing facilities, about what concerns you.”

Attending the session were representatives from Basin Electric, Minnkota Power Co-op, Great River Energy, North American Coal Corporation, IBEW, Otter Tail Power Company, North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Co-ops, Lignite Energy Council and other energy and mining firms.

EPA extended the public comment period from March 10 until May 9 on the proposal for next- generation plants. The agency in June plans to propose standards for existing coal-based generation, initiating more public comment. McCarthy said the agency is not near finalization of carbon dioxide standards for any coal plant.

“That’s why we’re here, to tell states not to worry,” she said. “Tell us the information but, in the end, you are going to have to be at the table participating in the implementation of this rule. And it had best be implementable.”

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., who had invited McCarthy to visit the synfuels plant, emphasized the importance of sustaining coal and told the administrator that stakeholders in the room view EPA proposals as saying “hell no to coal.”

“If we, in fact, discontinue the use of coal in our generation of electricity and in our energy base, that is a decision generations in the future will look back on and consider it very, very foolish,” said Heitkamp.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., who also participated in the discussion, raised industry concerns that the standard proposed for new power plants is not achievable, and what EPA has in store for the current coal fleet can only be met at a high price to consumers.

“The last thing we want is to have this rule impact the ability of the economy to grow in any state, never mind nationally,” McCarthy responded. “We’re going to do the best we can to design this so it is consistent with the direction that you want to head economically as well as addressing what we believe to be a very significant public health challenge.”

NO ASSURANCES ON TECHNOLOGY

Basin Electric has first-hand experience in trying to reduce emissions at its Antelope Valley Station through carbon capture and storage, which appears to be the only means to meet EPA’s new plant proposal. The co-op, however, found the near $500 million cost of the untried technology to be a no-win situation in 2010.

“We had no assurances on the technology at all,” Paul Sukut, Basin interim chief executive officer, told McCarthy. “We just didn’t feel like we could spend taxpayer money going into something like that and we weren’t sure it was going to work at all.”

How exactly carbon dioxide standards will work going forward remains to be seen, but under questioning by Heitkamp and Hoeven, the EPA chief eschewed the idea of a national cap in favor of an emissions rate for individual states.

“When I’m making a distinction between a cap and a rate, I’m recognizing that this state has expanded energy needs…that you need to continue to grow the energy generation here because you’re having larger population growth and you need to service that,” she said. “We are not arbitrarily picking a number that everybody needs to meet. We’re looking at individual states.”

McCarthy also reiterated President Obama’s order for an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy.

“Coal is part of the energy mix today and it will be for decades in the future,” McCarthy said. “Our challenge is to figure out how we continue to spark innovation across the U.S. like they have done in North Dakota. This facility is about innovation in the United States. This facility is about what we can do when we work together.”

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