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EPA issues new rule on greenhouse gas emissions: Where does that leave coal?

The EPA proposed the first-ever US curbs on power plants' greenhouse gas emissions, saying next-generation coal plants should meet the restrictions. But the coal industry slammed the new rule.

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“Gas is contributing to the closure of these [coal-fired] plants,” Dominion Resources chief executive Thomas F. Farrell II told the Washington Post. Mr. Farrell, who also chairs the Edison Electric Institute, the utility trade association, added: “It’s not all EPA. It’s a combination of low gas prices and EPA working at the same time.”

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Coal-industry spokesmen and some lawmakers on Capitol Hill declared the move an economic disaster in the making that is certain to increase electricity rates nationwide.

"EPA’s proposal for controlling greenhouse gas emissions from about half the nation’s electric power supply is a poorly disguised cap-and-tax scheme that represents energy and economic policy at its worst," Hal Quinn, president of the National Mining Association said in a statement. "Higher utility bills and fewer jobs are the only certain outcomes from this reckless attempt to override Congress’s repeated refusal to enact punitive caps on carbon dioxide emissions."

Today, coal-fired power plants produce about 40 percent of the nation's electricity – and an equal portion of its greenhouse gas emissions. New coal-fired plants can meet the requirement by burying the carbon dioxide emissions and through other technologies, EPA says.

The rule "creates a path forward for new technologies to be deployed at future facilities that would allow companies to burn coal, while emitting less carbon pollution," an EPA fact sheet said. New power plants designed to use coal or petroleum coke would be able to "incorporate technology to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to meet the standard, such as carbon capture and storage (CCS)."

Still, some lawmakers were quick to condemn the EPA move and promised to try to reverse it.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R) of Oklahoma was reported to be seeking a Congressional Review Act vote to halt the rule. Sen. John Barrasso (R) of Wyoming said “the Obama Administration just took another step to fulfill the president’s plan to make electricity ‘skyrocket’ and ‘bankrupt’ America’s coal industry."

But Rep. Henry Waxman (D) of California, who led the fight in the House to pass cap-and-trade legislation to limit greenhouse gas emissions – only to see that bill die in the Senate – declared the EPA’s proposed carbon pollution standards for new power plants "a breakthrough."

"It sets achievable limits on dangerous carbon pollution, spurs investments in new clean energy technologies, and provides certainty for industry," Congressman Waxman said in a statement. "It shows the president is listening to scientists, not extremists who deny the existence of climate change. Today’s action will reduce pollution, make families healthier, promote innovation, and help us compete with China and other countries that are investing in clean energy.”

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