Arlington, VA.; June 25, 2012 – In comments submitted today to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on its proposed New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for greenhouse gases, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association protests using the Clean Air Act (CAA) to mandate a switch to natural gas for future baseload plants using fossil fuels. Electric cooperatives believe as a matter of law -- and sound energy policy -- the agency with responsibility for regulating emissions does not, nor should it have, the authority claimed in this rule.
Cooperatives support common-sense, balanced environmental policies that protect health and the environment and maintain affordable and reliable electric service. Access to reasonably priced electricity is a bulwark of public health and increases in electric bills have a disproportionate health and economic impact on low-income consumers.
As a practical matter, the over-reliance on a single fuel for new sources whose price, while currently low, has traditionally been volatile and which is not available in all regions could have profound consequences for electric consumers.
The Clean Air Act under Section 111 gives the EPA authority to determine the “best system for emission reduction” (BSER) for new fossil fuel power plants – the section does not give the Agency authority to dictate the nation’s fuel choices going forward. Let’s be clear: EPA’s proposed NSPS for greenhouse gases is intended as a tool to eliminate coal as an option for baseload generation.
The NSPS must be based on the best system of emission reduction (BSER) available to all sources. The EPA could have proposed a separate standard for coal-fired generation; instead, the agency set a standard for both coal and natural gas that can be met only by choosing to build a combined-cycle natural gas plant.
The proposed rule allows for coal plants with carbon capture and sequestration, but no one has yet built a coal plant that could meet the proposed standard and, moreover, carbon sequestration may not be viable in all areas.
EPA has anchored its proposed NSPS on the erroneous premise that coal and natural gas are interchangeable electric generation sources. Even though both fuels are used to power electric generation, they are certainly not interchangeable fuels at many site locations where new baseload generation will be needed to ensure electric reliability.
This proposal fails to consider or account for the lack of natural gas availability in many areas, and this failure is a fatal flaw.
Over the past several years electric co-ops have been using more natural gas-fired generation principally due to its low cost. Historically, natural gas prices have varied widely, however, making reliance upon it risky at best. Also, natural gas in quantities necessary to provide year around baseload generation is unavailable in some areas, adding further risk.
In 1978, Congress tried to prohibit one fuel source when it passed the “Fuel Use Act” – legislation Congress had to repeal about eight years later. EPA should heed the lesson from that experience: it is a mistake to dictate fuel choices into the future.
The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is the national service organization that represents the nation’s more than 900 private, not-for-profit, consumer-owned electric cooperatives, which provide service to 42 million people in 47 states.