Tag Archives: EPA

Geology and Markets, not EPA, Waging War on Coal

With the release of the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rules limiting carbon pollution from the nation’s electricity sector, you’ve no doubt been hearing a lot of industry outrage about “Obama’s War on Coal.”

Don’t believe it.

Despite the passionate rhetoric from both sides of the climate divide, the proposed rules are very moderate — almost remedial.  The rules grade the states on a curve, giving each a tailored emissions target meant to be attainable without undue hardship.  For states that have already taken action to curb greenhouse gasses, and have more reductions in the works, they will be easy to meet.  California, Oregon, Washington, and Colorado, are all several steps ahead of the proposed federal requirements — former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter told Colorado Public Radio that he expects the state to meet the proposed federal emissions target for 2030 in 2020, a decade ahead of schedule.  This isn’t to say that Colorado has particularly clean power — our state has the 10th most carbon intensive electricity in the country, with about 63% of it coming from coal — but we’ve at least started the work of transitioning.

Furthermore, many heavily coal dependent states that have so far chosen to ignore the imperatives of climate change (e.g. Wyoming, West Virginia, Kentucky) must only attain single-digit percentage reductions, and would be permitted to remain largely coal dependent all the way up to 2030.  Roger Pielke Jr. and others have pointed out that in isolation, the new rules would be expected to reduce the amount of coal we burn by only about 15%, relative to 2012 by 2020.  By 2030, we might see an 18% reduction in coal use compared to 2012.  Especially when you compare these numbers to the 25% reduction in coal use that took place between 2005 and 2012, and the far more aggressive climate goals that even Republicans were advocating for just two presidential elections ago, it becomes hard to paint the regulations as extreme.  Instead, they look more like a binding codification of plans that already exist on the ground, and a gentle kick in the pants for regulatory laggards to get on board with at least a very basic level of emissions mitigation.

So, in isolation, there’s a limited amount to get either excited or angry about here.  Thankfully, the EPA’s rules will not be operating in isolation!

Continue reading Geology and Markets, not EPA, Waging War on Coal

EPA Greenhouse Gas Emission Standards

Comment Period Extended Until May 9th, 2014

Coloradans approve of new GHG regulations. Help us show the EPA this is true Comment Now

The EPA is in the final stage of rulemaking on how they will regulate greenhouse gas emissions from new electric generation plants, including coal, natural gas, petroleum coke, and other fossil fuels. There have been over 2.5 million comments on the proposed rule, so get your voice heard and tell the EPA to ensure that the GHG emission standards are strict and properly reflect the negative health and climate impacts.

Summary of the Major Provisions of the Proposed Rules:

This action proposes a standard of performance for utility boilers and IGCC units based on partial implementation of carbon capture and storage (CCS) as the BSER. The proposed emission limit for those sources is 1,100 lb CO2/MWh. This action also proposes standards of performance for natural gas-fired stationary combustion turbines based on modern, efficient natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) technology as the BSER. The proposed emission limits for those sources are 1,000 lb CO2/MWh for larger units and 1,100 lb CO2/MWh for smaller units. At this time, the EPA is not proposing standards of performance for modified or reconstructed sources.

For more information on the proposed rule.

Legal Foundations for New Carbon Pollution Standards Outlined

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently developing carbon pollution reduction standards for new and existing power plants that will be implemented under the Clean Air Act as part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. According to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), “fossil fuel lawyers are attacking the standards, saying that the EPA does not have the authority under the Clean Air Act to establish any actual limits on carbon pollution. If the EPA does have that authority, there are no demonstrated measures to reduce carbon pollution from power plants, so any required emission reductions must at most be ‘minimal.'”

In objection to these statements, the EDF released a white paper, Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act: The Legal Foundation for Strong, Flexible and Cost-Effective Carbon Pollution Standards for Existing Power Plants, describing the legal foundations for the EPA to work with states to reduce carbon emissions for existing power plants. Continue reading Legal Foundations for New Carbon Pollution Standards Outlined

Clean Coal Is A Dirty Lie

Fifteen homes like this one in Harriman, Tenn., were flooded with fly ash sludge on Monday after a storage pond wall broke. The first floor of this two-story house is almost completely covered with coal ash sludge.
J. Miles Carey/Knoxville News Sentinel, via Associated Press, Harriman, Tenn.

By: Robert Miles, August 2013

WHAT IS COAL ASH

The most significant toxic byproduct of burning coal is coal ash. Coal ash is a blanket term for four residuals: fly ash – fine powdery particles that float up the smokestack and are captured by pollution control devices; bottom ash – heavier materials that descend to the bottom of the furnace; flue gas desulfurization – wet sludge or dry powder formed by chemically combining sulfur gases with a sorbent; boiler sag – crystallized pellets that result when molten slag and water in the furnace come in contact. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), coal ash typically contains heavy metals including arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium, selenium, other assorted heavy metals and trace amounts of radionuclides such as uranium. The majority of heavy metals that are present in coal ash are among the most toxic heavy metals listed by the U.S. Department of Health’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Arsenic in particular has been proven to cause cancer. Despite the known danger posed by coal ash waste, little to no government policy exists to regulate the disposal of coal ash. Due to the toxic nature of coal ash waste it continues to be a focus for multiple organizations to research the amount of coal ash being produced and the effect it is having on our air and water. Clean Water Action and Rainforest Action Network have recently published individual research reports on the information they gathered from coal ash research.

RECENT RESEARCH ON THE HARMFUL EFFECTS OF COAL ASH

The very first survey of coal ash pollution in Colorado – Coal Ash: Colorado’s Toxic Trash Exposed – was published by Clean Water Action on June 26th 2013. “Clean Water Action’s research found that coal ash disposal is a serious threat to Colorado’s water resources,” said Gary Wockner of Clean Water Action.  “Right here in Colorado, about 1.7 million tons of coal ash pollution is produced every year and safeguards are not in place to protect the environment or the public’s health.” Continue reading Clean Coal Is A Dirty Lie

To Frack Or To Freak? The Effects Of Hydraulic Fracturing On Our Environment

By: Robert Miles, July 2013

Hydraulic fracturing drilling rig on the Pinedale Anticline in Wyoming with mountain range in background.
Drilling rig on the Pinedale Anticline (Linda Baker)

Natural gas produced from shale formations, commonly referred to as “shale gas”, has become increasingly important in the energy supply market for the U.S. and worldwide. Obtaining natural gas from shale reserves was not considered economically feasible until recently because of low permeability of the shale rock formations. New developments in hydraulic fracturing technology have led to a boom in domestic shale gas production since massive scale utilization in 2003. The United States has experienced economic benefits via revenue and job creation in predominantly rural areas while simultaneously increasing the energy security of the U.S. by decreasing dependence on foreign oil supplies. However, the resounding question remains: at what cost? In order to realize the implications of this question we first need to understand some basics about the hydraulic fracturing process and the uncertainties that continue to surround the shale gas industry. In this report I will primarily focus on the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing and well development, but it is important to realize that direct impacts on the environment can and will extend to affect human health.

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is a stimulation process used to extract natural gas, and in some cases oil, from deep shale reserves 5,000-8,000 feet below the ground surface. This process allows energy companies to access previously unavailable energy sources in states that have deep oil and gas reserves. The fracking process involves pumping a mixture of water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into a well, which fractures the surrounding rock formation and props open passages that allow natural gas to freely flow from rock fractures to the production well. Once the well is developed, the carrying fluid can then flow back to the ground surface along with the gas.

Continue reading To Frack Or To Freak? The Effects Of Hydraulic Fracturing On Our Environment