Published On: Fri, Nov 8th, 2013

Supreme Court made right decision to hear power plant challenge

Commentary
By Patrick Morrisey

Attorney General of WV

In the next few months, the U.S. Supreme Court will be reentering the greenhouse gas debate when it reviews the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) attempts to regulate emissions from stationary sources such as power plants.

The question the Court will answer is part of an ongoing debate about the EPA’s role and authority in determining what type of emissions should be classified as pollutants and how they should be regulated. I applaud the nation’s highest court in its decision. Earlier this year, our Office joined a legal brief with Kansas and Montana urging the Court to weigh in on this very case.

Yet even while the Supreme Court prepares to review one EPA restriction on new power plants, our office is closely scrutinizing another: proposed emissions standards for new coal-fired power plants. We believe the proposed rule sets a standard for coal-burning power plants that would be impossible to meet unless the plants use carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.

We believe the standards do not comply with the law. Under the Clean Air Act, new performance standards must reflect the application of the “best system of emission reduction” that the EPA has determined to be “adequately demonstrated.” CCS technology, however, is still experimental.

The EPA cites a coal gasification plant under construction in Kemper County, MS, as the best example of an “adequate” demonstration of CCS technology. The facts on the ground, however, demonstrate the opposite. Kemper is suffering $1 billion in cost overruns despite a promise of $270 million by the federal government and qualifying for special tax credits of $133 million. The company also says the EPA should not use the plant as national example because the characteristics that made the project the right choice for Mississippi may not apply elsewhere.

So who is going to pay for the EPA’s blatant overreach? Consumers in West Virginia and other states, who will pay higher rates as utility companies try to recoup at least some of their costs. Ratepayers in Kemper County have witnessed a 15 percent rate increase and more rate increases are expected.

American Electric Power already has said it would pass on the incurred costs of CCS to West Virginia consumers if it could. The company, working collaboratively with a number of private companies and government agencies, once operated a pilot CCS program at its Mountaineer plant in Mason County, but AEP shelved plans to build a full-scale $668 million CCS plant at that location because it worried it would not be able to recoup its costs.

By effectively eliminating new coal-burning power plants from America’s energy equation, EPA’s proposed rule also threatens the future market for selling West Virginia coal. The real world consequences of making coal less attractive and more expensive would have devastating impacts on our state, her people and our economy. The Obama EPA’s perverse ideological pipedream will drive more West Virginians into needless poverty.

Instead of allowing states and citizens the freedom to choose their own power source, the Obama EPA has imposed a government-centered view of what’s right. The EPA’s dream to rid the world of coal is a nightmare for West Virginians.