Curbing Carbon Dioxide

Power plants in the United States that were built after this year would have to limit their emissions of carbon dioxide, under a proposed regulation unveiled by the Environmental Protection Agency recently. EPA made the move after determining in 2009 that greenhouse gas emissions—notably CO2—threaten health and welfare by contributing to human-induced climate change. Under the new proposal, newly built power plants would be required to emit no more than 1,000 lb of CO2 per megawatt/hour. EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson says current technology for natural gas combined-cycle units would be able to meet this standard. In addition, the proposal is designed to allow construction of new coal-fired power plants while creating incentives for development of technologies for capturing and storing CO2, Jackson says. New coal-fired facilities could meet the 1,000 lb per MWh standard by averaging their emissions over a 30-year period. This would let plants release more CO2 during their earlier years, then capture the gas for storage as new technologies come on-line. This provision of the proposal “underscores the urgency of stronger public and private investment in carbon capture and storage technologies,” says Eileen B. Claussen, president of the Centre for Climate & Energy Solutions, a non-profit group that supports action on climate change. Congressional Republicans attacked EPA’s proposal, casting it as a “tax” on energy. Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), the top Republican of the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works, vowed to stop the agency from finalising the proposal. Some industry groups are assaulting the proposal too. EPA’s planned regulation is “designed to place an indefinite ban on the construction of conventional coal-fired power plants in America,” says R. Bruce Josten of the Chamber of Commerce. The proposal might promote a greater shift to natural-gas-fired power plants and create increased demand for a key raw material for chemical manufacturers, a situation that is of concern to the American Chemistry Council. The chemical industry association, however, offered no comment on EPA’s proposal. On the other hand, environmental and health groups are praising EPA’s proposal. Union of Concerned Scientists’ President Kevin Knobloch calls it “a historic step to trim carbon emissions and help create a cleaner, healthier, and more modern energy future.” But, he adds, EPA also needs to address the main source of CO2 emissions from the power sector—existing coal-fired plants.

Chemical & Engineering News, 27 March 2012 ; ;