EPA Policy Discouraging Advanced Coal Technologies has No Binding Legal Effect

On October 12th, The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today filed a proposed settlement with Environmental Defense and several other parties in the federal court of appeals in Washington, D.C. in which it agreed and stipulated that a December 13, 2005 policy discouraging technology innovation has no binding legal effect on any state, person or entity. The technology, dubbed Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle, has the capacity to reduce several airborne contaminants and to remove and store underground heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions before they are released to the atmosphere.

The proposed settlement is significant because coal-fired power plants discharge more heat-trapping carbon dioxide than virtually any other form of electricity production and the Department of Energy reports that a staggering 154 new coal plants are in various stages of development nationwide. Texas and Illinois alone account for nearly one-quarter of the new coal capacity pending nationwide. Twenty-eight of the 154 proposed new coal plants would use advanced coal gasification technology (see www.netl.doe.gov/coal/refshelf/ncp.pdf). The Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration projected earlier this year that annual carbon dioxide emissions from power plants will increase by 1.1 billion tons (44%) between 2004 and 2030 largely due to increased reliance on coal. This projected increase is the equivalent to the annual carbon dioxide emissions from 196 million cars.

"EPA's flawed policy has directly discouraged cleaner energy technologies that lower dangerous air pollution and help fight global warming," said Environmental Defense senior attorney Vickie Patton. "Today's proposed settlement lifts any EPA cloud over the long-standing Clean Air Act imperative to protect human health and the environment by truly minimizing pollution from new coal plants. The nation must move forward and work together in the urgent fight against particulate pollution, mercury and global warming, not hinder time-tested American innovation."

The proposed settlement involves an EPA pronouncement last year that pointedly excluded mere consideration of advanced coal gasification technology or Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) as "best available control technology" for a proposed new coal plant. IGCC plants gasify coal and then burn the gas to produce electricity. The Clean Air Act calls for proposed new coal plants to use the "best available control technology" including available methods to maximize pollution reductions. In addition to Environmental Defense, the Montana Environmental Information Center and several other organizations are parties to the proposed settlement, which must undergo public notice and comment before it is finalized.

The EPA pronouncement on December 13, 2005 was invoked by Texas officials on December 14, 2005 in declining to consider advanced coal technology as part of the clean air permit for the proposed Sandy Creek 800 megawatt conventional coal plant The Sandy Creek plant will release as much as 7.6 million tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide each year.

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