The Business And Politics Of Air Quality Regulation
June 20, 2013
Keith Johnson, energy and business reporter, The Wall Street Journal
Chris Field, director of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University
Terrence Henry, reporter, State Impact Texas
plans on climate change that would include power plants.
Both industry and activists have been expecting decisions that would reduce reliance on coal and boost the use of the natural gas, wind, solar and nuclear energy, all controversial.
any power plant has to have a certain level of emissions, and it wasn’t a very high level of emissions.
the draft standard that the administration presented actually would have even ruled out a number of gas plants. I mean, the standard was so stringent it would’ve actually ruled out a number of gas plants.
for new plants it’s probably safe to say that it’s going to be difficult in the future to build coal plants, at least in an economical fashion in this country.
this is all authority under the Clean Air Act. You know, this is a Bush, you know, 41-era legislation. This is from 1990.
The Clean Air Act gives them authority to regulate these emissions.
Congress took a stab back in 2009, 2010 at climate change legislation, which would have tried to set up a market mechanism. That died. That went nowhere in the Senate. So what had been a threat, EPA action through executive authority, became the default option, and that’s where we are today.
And if, broadly speaking, the coal industry is the loser, who are the winners here?
JOHNSON: Well, obviously natural gas has is a winner, but natural gas has been a winner for the last few years.
So if natural gas is going to be a winner, what about renewable sources – solar, wind – that sort of thing?
JOHNSON: You know, they’ve had a lot of progress in the last couple of years. When President Obama came in, he said he wanted to double the amount of renewable energy in the country, and he’s done that. Again, that was from a relatively small baseline. It’s a relatively small percentage of U.S. power supply. But, yes, there is an awful lot of renewable energy.
These new regulations aren’t going to be the kind of spur, necessarily, for renewable energy, you know, that could jumpstart that sector. There’s other policies you would need in order to make solar a much bigger player in the mix or to make wind energy a much bigger player in the mix.
CONAN: And what about nuclear power?
JOHNSON: Well, nuclear power lately has had the problem – it’s had problems for a number of years, but economics is first and foremost the problem with nuclear power. Cheap gas, you know, may have pushed aside coal. It may have made wind power less competitive, but it really damaged the economic prospects of nuclear power.
And that’s because it costs an awful lot to build a nuclear power plant.
So as gas gets more expensive, nuclear power gets marginally more appealing. But again, these are eight-, 10-year projects in order to make a nuclear power plant. There’s only a couple underway in the U.S.
In 2012, global emissions of carbon dioxide were more than 35 billion tons. They’ve been increasing at a rate of more than two percent a year since the year 2000. And the emissions of electricity are incredibly important. They represent 33 percent of the U.S. emissions. Coal represents 80 percent of those. It’s a big deal not only because it’s a big source of a rapidly growing emissions pool but because they’re real opportunities for the U.S. to exhibit a leadership position on this.
CONAN: The U.S. exhibiting leadership position. At the same time, the U.S. is increasing its exports of coal to places like China, which is building new coal-fired power plants rapidly. Does it make a difference globally whether American coal is burned in Kentucky or whether it’s burned in Shanghai?
U.S. emissions are a significant fraction. If you multiply the fraction of U.S. total emissions by the electricity, by the coal part, over 4 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions are from U.S. coal and the electricity sector. And that’s a meaningful part, and it’s a part that we can have an impact on.
Gemasolar. Taken on May 7, 2009
New York. CarbonVisuals.