Published February 22 2014
Letter: Realities of coal standardAfter years of delay, the Environmental Protection Agency is moving ahead with standards to make sure new power plants are not emitting dangerous amounts of the greenhouse gases responsible for an increasingly unstable climate.
The conversation among leaders in North Dakota has been disappointing. There are many misperceptions and knee-jerk reactions against the standards.
First, everyone knew the standards were coming. The U.S. has been involved in greenhouse gas reduction since George H.W. Bush was president. In the 2008 campaign, Sen, John McCain, R-Ariz., and then-Sen. Barack Obama,
D-Ill., indicated they would address greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
Second, the standards are necessary. Warnings about climate change from scientific, business, insurance, public health and national security leaders are becoming increasingly dire. The risk to society of ignoring this problem is too great.
Coal plants are the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. We cannot say we are serious about addressing climate change if we continue to build conventional coal plants.
Third, we have technology to build plants with fewer emissions. There is no need to build a conventional coal plant when there are alternatives. The cost of wind power has declined about 90 percent in two decades, and 30 percent in the past three years. It is cost competitive. Between 2008 and 2012, the price of solar dropped 80 percent.
We have technology to build less-polluting power plants with natural gas and coal. There are examples around the world, even in our own backyard with the Dakota Gasification Plant near Beulah. I’ve met with researchers and executives from here and across the world who are working on advanced coal technologies. What’s missing is the market signal. The new standards will create a market incentive.
Fourth, industry often overstates the burden of new rules. We saw this in the ’90s when President George H. W. Bush signed an amendment to the Clean Air Act designed to cut sulfur dioxide emissions that were causing acid rain. At the time, many in the industry claimed the standards would break the industry and that the technology wasn’t ready. But, when is the last time you heard anyone talk about acid rain? The industry was able to deliver.
The status quo stifles innovation. By not having greenhouse gas standards in place, we create an uneven playing field for the clean tech sector. Whether we’re talking about wind and solar companies, or firms that are working on advanced cleaner coal technologies; it is unfair for them to have to compete in the marketplace against traditional generators that are allowed to spew greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere without any limits or costs.
The proposed new standards on emissions from new power plants not only help the environment, but they will help the economy. Having standards in place will give companies a clear picture and enable them to make strategic investments. It will allow American companies to do what they do best – innovate.
Schaefer consults on energy and climate matters in North Dakota.