WASHINGTON – The Obama administration’s tightening of pollution regulations for new coal-fired power plants Tuesday is a step in the right direction, Maryland politicians and environmentalists said, but some said it doesn’t go far enough.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s pollution standards would require new coal-fired plants to install additional pollution controls such as carbon-capture technology. The standards do not apply to existing power plants or those that will start construction within the next 12 months.
Maryland Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin said the new rules should help improve the health of the imperiled Chesapeake Bay.
“I applaud the years of thoughtful work and rigorous scientific study” that went into the EPA’s creation of the regulations, Cardin said. “The scientific evidence of the threat that increased greenhouse gas emissions pose to Maryland and the health of Chesapeake Bay, to our nation’s farmers and natural ecosystems, and most importantly to the world our children will inherit, is irrefutable.”
Others questioned the administration’s reliance on carbon-capture technology — a way of trapping carbon emissions and storing them underground — as a tool for reducing pollution.
“There’s nobody in the world that does that today. It’s very expensive,” said former Bush administration EPA Air Administrator Jeff Holmstead. In a recent report, the Department of Energy said that the carbon-capture technology won’t be commercially available until 2020, according to Holmstead.
The ruling, Holmstead said, effectively bans new coal energy plants.
Tommy Landers, the director of the advocacy group Environment Maryland, also believes carbon capture is a questionable idea.
“I don’t think (carbon capture) is a long-term solution. We need to reduce pollution at its source,” he said.
The exemption of existing power plants affects Maryland because the state is at the end of a “tailpipe” of pollution from other states, Landers said.
In addition, there are nine coal-fired power plants in Maryland, and none of them use carbon-capture technology.
Pollutants released from coal-fired power plants include nitrous oxide, methane and sulfur dioxide. The gases are implicated in global warming as well as acid rain.
The new regulations are a result of a 2007 Supreme Court ruling which determined that greenhouse gas emissions are pollutants that are subject to the Clean Air Act.
Environment Maryland estimates that coal-fired power plant pollution is responsible for at least 100 premature deaths and 4,000 asthma attacks an year, according to a 2007 report.
In 2010, the coal-fired Morgantown Generating Station in Newburg was the state’s dirtiest power plant. It emitted almost 7.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, 18,000 metric tons of methane and 38,000 metric tons nitrous oxide, according to the EPA.
Landers said that he is looking forward to working with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to regulate existing power plants as well.
“We certainly need to be doing more to clean up every power plant, but this (proposal) is a step in the right direction,” he said.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation declined to comment on the proposal.
There are no planned coal-fired plants in Maryland that will be affected by the new regulations, Holmstead said.
“That doesn’t mean that Maryland won’t be affected because it does import coal power from Pennsylvania,” Holmstead said.
He described the regulation as a “political statement,” and said that it may have little practical effect because low-priced natural gas is beginning to replace coal as a source of energy.
But he warned that “the rule can’t stay in place if natural gas prices start to rise.”