The EPA unfurled a new rule last Friday limiting emissions at new American coal plants to just 60 percent of what they currently spout. E&E News reports:
The rule would limit new coal plants to emitting 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour. A typical coal plant today emits 1,800 pounds of CO2 per MWh. New gas plants that use combined-cycle technology would be limited to 1,000 pounds of CO2 per MWh, which is close to the 1,135 pounds per MWh that gas plants emit on average today.
To get emissions down to acceptable levels, new coal plants will have to implement expensive carbon capture and storage (CCS) systems. These systems, which pull carbon dioxide out of the air and sequester it underground, still have a long way to go before they can be implemented at cost-effective levels. Just last week, cost overruns forced Norway to shutter a marquee CCS plant that it had once hailed as an achievement on par with the moon landing.Though the administration didn’t go so far as to limit emissions on existing plants, the limits and the costs the new rule will entail will essentially halt new coal plant production. Howard Herzog, a senior research engineer with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Energy Initiative, told E&E News that “unless you see a really big spike in gas prices, you see gas plants being built and no coal plants.”Greens, of course, are happy about this, especially given the fact that roughly a third of all US emissions come from power plants. Coal pollutes the air (something China knows all too well) and emits twice as much carbon dioxide as natural gas. President Obama already outlined plans to halt financing of new coal plants overseas in a speech earlier this summer, and the World Bank followed suit with a similar pledge a month later.But let’s give credit where credit is due: this new rule wouldn’t be possible with fracking and the glut of shale gas America is currently enjoying. We can only afford to be choosy about where we’re getting our energy because we have multiple cost-effective options. Natural gas burns a lot cleaner, and it’s dirt-cheap. Shale gas is green, and the EPA’s new ruling on coal might be natural gas’s biggest eco-victory yet.[A bulldozer moves coal at Foresight Energy LLC’s Shay coal mine in Carlinville, Illinois, U.S. Photo courtesy of Getty Images]