The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued a rule aimed at limiting greenhouse-gas emissions from new coal-fired power plants. That appropriate action is in no way an effort to deny coal-fired power’s role as America’s dominant energy source, as critics allege.
The EPA initiative has particular implications for Ohio, which gets more than 80 percent of its energy from coal combustion — twice the national average. Our state also is the nation’s fourth-largest energy user and a leader in greenhouse-gas emissions.
The rule would limit emissions from new coal-fired plants to no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon-dioxide pollution for every megawatt of electricity generated. Existing plants emit 1,600 to 1,800 pounds per megawatt, but the new rule does not affect them, or plants within 12 months of construction.
The EPA says it has no projection for costs of compliance, because most plants that are under way were designed in anticipation of the rule. For the moment, utilities are pulling back on some coal-fired plants because of the current high cost of coal relative to natural gas.
Coal is America’s most abundant fossil fuel, but coal-fired power plants are the largest source of carbon pollution in the country, contributing about one-third of greenhouse-gas emissions. Harmful emissions from coal can and should be managed better.
The coal industry is likely to challenge the new rule, which it argues will drive up energy costs and reduce demand for domestically produced coal. A better response would be to meet the challenge with more innovative technology, such as carbon capture and sequestration.
Suggestions that the EPA rules reflect the Obama Administration’s contempt for free-market competition don’t hold up. A better effort to include the costs of pollution in energy production will stimulate competition from alternative and renewable-energy sources.
Energy markets are changing because the country’s needs — including the need to respond to man-made climate change — are evolving. Energy producers must become more efficient and pollute less.
Aging coal-fired plants are not closing because they are victims of unreasonable pollution controls. They’re victims of companies that didn’t modernize.
The Obama Administration has shown an ability to consider air pollutants on a case-by-case basis, as it did last fall when it rejected an EPA plan for tighter rules on smog-forming ozone. To its credit, the administration seeks to raise the bar for modernization by all energy producers.