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Coal regulations

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This article is part of the Coal Issues portal on SourceWatch, a project of CoalSwarm and the Center for Media and Democracy. See here for help on adding material to CoalSwarm.

Coal Mining

The main U.S. statute controlling coal mining is the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA). Under the law, each state must establish a federally approved enforcement program. SMCRA is administered by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement in the Department of Interior. Other federal laws affecting coal mining with a major impact on mining are the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act.[1]

The following U.S. statutes may also affect coal mining:[2]

  • American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978
  • Antiquities Act of 1906
  • Archeological Nd Historical Preservation Act of 1974
  • Archeological Salvage Act
  • Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1969
  • Endangered Species Act of 1963
  • Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act of 1934
  • Forest and Rangeland Resources Planning Act of 1974
  • Historic Preservation Act of 1966
  • Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918
  • Mining and Minerals Policy Act of 1970
  • Multiple Use - Sustained Yield Act of 1960
  • National Forests Management Act of 1976
  • National Trails System Act
  • Noise Control Act of 1976
  • Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
  • Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974
  • Soil and Water Resources Conservation Act of 1977
  • Wild and Scenic Rivers Act
  • Wilderness Act of 1964

Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977

The Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 provides the framework for the actions of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). The act amended the 1969 Coal Act in a number of significant ways, and consolidated all federal health and safety regulations of the mining industry, coal as well as non-coal mining, under a single statutory scheme. The Mine Act strengthened and expanded the rights of miners, and enhanced the protection of miners from retaliation for exercising such rights. Mining fatalities dropped sharply under the Mine Act from 272 in 1977 to 22 year to date (July 17, 2007). The Mine Act also transferred responsibility for carrying out its mandates from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Labor, and named the new agency the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). Additionally, the Mine Act established the independent Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission to provide for independent review of the majority of MSHA's enforcement actions.[3]

Underground mining in the United States is regulated by the Mine Safety and Health Administration, which employs nearly one safety inspector for every four coal mines. Underground coal mines are inspected at least four times annually by MSHA inspectors. In addition, miners can report violations, and request additional inspections. Miners with such concerns for their work safety cannot be penalized with any threat to the loss of employment.[4]

Coal dust

Black lung

Coal dust is a fine powdered form of coal, which is created by the crushing, grinding, or pulverizing of coal.[5] Chronic exposure to the coal dust stirred up during mining can lead to black lung disease, or pneumoconiosis. It is a common affliction of coal miners and others who work with coal, similar to both silicosis (from inhaling silica dust) and to the long-term effects of tobacco smoking. Inhaled coal dust progressively builds up in the lungs and is unable to be removed by the body; that leads to inflammation, fibrosis, and in the worst case, necrosis, or the premature death of cells and living tissue.[6]

Federal U.S. regulations of coal dust did not exist until In the Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, in which the U.S. Congress set up standards to reduce dust and the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund (BLDTF), which pays health benefits to coal miners afflicted with black lung. A miner who spent 25 years in underground coal mines has a 5-10% risk of contracting the disease.[7]

BLDTF was instituted in 1978, and is funded through an excise tax on coal to support a trust fund covering health costs of affected workers. However the tax is not sufficient to cover all costs, and the BLDTF was given “indefinite authority to borrow” from the U.S. General Fund. By the end of FY 2008, the BLDTF had accrued nearly $13 billion in debt. In 2008, Congress partially “bailed out” the BLDTF.[8]

Mining explosions

Coal dust is highly explosive and both accelerates and spreads smaller ignitions underground. It has been linked to several coal mining explosions, including April 2010's deadly Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster in West Virginia.[9]

On September 21, 2010, MSHA director Joe Main announced plans to require underground mines to do more to control explosive coal dust under an emergency rule. The announcement came amid mounting evidence that coal dust played a role in the Upper Big Branch mine explosion in April. The change will raise to 80 percent the amount of pulverized stone or other inert material mines use to dilute coal dust in air intake tunnels, the same amount already required in return tunnels. Currently intakes need just 65 percent. Main says MSHA's change is based on federal research that shows decreasing the amount of coal dust in air intakes can prevent explosions.[10]

Coal mining reclamation

Coal mine reclamation is the rehabilitation of land after coal mining operations have stopped. It is a requirement of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) of 1977.[11]

Several studies have shown that despite the requirements of SMCRA, most mined land is not fully reclaimed. According to a 2007 review of reclamation in five western states published by the Western Organization of Resource Councils and the Natural Resources Defense Council, out of over 400,000 acres affected by coal mining in the 10-year period 1996-2005, only 22,906 acres (5.7%) were released from Phase III bonds (lands revegetated, with pre-miing productivity reestablished and pre-mining surface and groundwater restored).[12]

According to a 2009 survey of 410 mountaintop removal locations in Appalachia conducted for the Natural Resources Defense Council, 366 locations (89.3%) had no post-mining economic development (excluding forestry and pasture), 26 locations (6.3%) had some form of post-mining economic development, and the status of the remaining 18 locations could not be determined.[13]

The Clean Air Act

The Clean Air Act is a federal law enacted by the United States Congress to control air pollution on a national level. It requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop and enforce regulations to protect the general public from exposure to airborne contaminants that are known to be hazardous to human health. The Clean Air Act was passed in 1963, and is listed under 42 U.S.C. § 7401.[14] Major additions and changes were embodied in the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1966, the Clean Air Act (1970), the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1977, and the Clean Air Act (1990). In the landmark Massachusetts v. EPA case, the U.S. Supreme Court extended the law to included global warming pollution. Congress established the New Source Review (NSR) permitting program as part of the 1977 Clean Air Act Amendments. The NSR process requires industry to undergo an EPA pre-construction review for environmental controls if they proposed either building new facilities or any modifications to existing facilities that would create a “significant increase” of a regulated pollutant. The legislation allowed “routine scheduled maintenance” to not be covered in the NSR process.[15]

National Ambient Air Quality Standards

The Clean Air Act, which was last amended in 1990, requires EPA to set National Ambient Air Quality Standards (40 CFR part 50) for pollutants considered harmful to public health and the environment. The Clean Air Act established two types of national air quality standards. Primary standards set limits to protect public health, including the health of "sensitive" populations such as asthmatics, children, and the elderly. Secondary standards set limits to protect public welfare, including protection against decreased visibility, damage to animals, crops, vegetation, and buildings. The EPA is required to set and review the standards every five years, and must base their analysis and policy changes on the most current scientific studies.[16]

The EPA Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards (OAQPS) has set National Ambient Air Quality Standards for six principal pollutants, which are called "criteria" pollutants: sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, ozone, lead, and carbon monoxide. After the EPA sets or revises each standard and a timeline for implementation, the responsibility for meeting the standard falls to the states. Each state must submit an EPA-approved plan that shows how it will meet the standards and deadlines. These state plans are known as State Implementation Plans (SIPs)." [17]

Also see Clean Air Act Part A on Air Quality and Emission Standards and particularly the section on National ambient air quality standards.

Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards

The Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) refers to EPA regulations on ground-level ozone, a primary ingredient in smog linked to respiratory illnesses. The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to set NAAQS for ground-level ozone and five other criteria pollutants, and to review the latest scientific information and standards every five years: "Before new standards are established, policy decisions undergo rigorous review by the scientific community, industry, public interest groups, the general public and the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC)."[18]

In January 2010, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said tightening the nation's air-quality standard for ozone was "long overdue," and would save an estimated 12,000 lives a year and yield health benefits up to $100 billion annually in 2020. [19] The EPA is proposing to strengthen the 8-hour ozone standard to a level within the range of 0.060-0.070 parts per million (ppm), up from 0.075 ppm created in 2008, as "the ozone standards set in 2008 were not as protective as recommended by EPA’s panel of science advisors, the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee. The proposed [2010] standards are consistent with CASAC’s recommendations."[20]

In December 2010, the EPA said that it will not decide until July 2011 whether to tighten the national air-quality standard for ozone. In a Dec. 8 written statement, the EPA said it would ask the panel of clean-air experts for "further interpretation" of the studies they relied upon in making their recommendation, so as to ensure the agency's final decision "is grounded in the best science."[19]

On September 2, 2011, the White House announced that it was overruling the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to adopt a stricter standard for ground-level ozone until a scheduled reconsideration of acceptable pollution limits in 2013.[21]

Sulfur dioxide

The Acid Rain program, created under Title IV of the Act in 1990, was enacted to address the problem of acid rain by curbing sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions. The acid rain controls were implemented in two phases and placed a decreasing cap on emissions over several years.[22] Included in the 1990 amendments was a controversial provision allowing companies to buy, sell and trade pollution credits, provided they cut half of their overall emissions.[23] In 2005 the U.S. EPA approved the Clean Air Interstate Rule, requiring a 57 percent cut in sulfur dioxide emissions and a 61 percent cut in nitrogen oxide emissions from power plants by 2015.[24][25]

In November 2009, the EPA proposed new NAAQS limits on sulfur dioxide, the first time since 1971 that the agency recommended tightening controls on SO2 to protect public health. The old limits measured sulfur dioxide averages over 24-hour and one-year periods. The new rule would require one-hour measurements, such that a spike of emissions above a new limit — between 50 and 100 parts per billion in one hour — would no longer be acceptable. The EPA estimates that if the rule is enacted with the strongest limits the agency is recommending, the benefits by 2020 would include 4,700 to 12,000 fewer premature deaths per year and 3.6 million fewer cases of worsened asthma. The agency also calculated that the health benefits of the new regulations would greatly outweigh the $1.8 billion to $6.8 billion costs of the new rules. A public hearing is scheduled in Atlanta in January 2010, with the new rules scheduled to become final by June 2010.[26]

The new standard was issued on June 3, 2010.[27]

Mercury

On March 15, 2005, the EPA issued the Clean Air Mercury Rule (CAMR) to permanently cap and reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants for the first time ever.[28] On February 8, 2008, the DC Circuit struck down CAMR in New Jersey v. EPA, No. 05-1097 (D.C. Cir. Feb. 8, 2008), as the Act removed oil and coal-fired electric utility steam generating units (EGUs) from the list of sources of hazardous air pollutants and instead regulated the emissions through a cap-and-trade program. New Jersey, and several other states, municipal governments, and environmental groups, challenged CAMR claiming that EPA had no authority to delist the EGUs without providing a “specific finding” under section 112(c)(9) of the Clean Air Act. The DC Circuit agreed with the Petitioners, vacating both the delisting rule and CAMR.[29]

After the ruling, the EPA began developing air toxics emissions standards for power plants under the Clean Air Act (Section 112), consistent with the D.C. Circuit’s opinion regarding CAMR. EPA intends to propose air toxics standards for coal- and oil-fired electric generating units by March 10, 2011 and finalize a rule by November 16, 2011.[28]

On December 24, 2009, EPA approved an Information Collection Request (ICR) requiring all US power plants with coal-or oil-fired electric generating units to submit emissions information for use in developing air toxics emissions standards.[28]

In a motion filed on December 7, 2010, the EPA asked for an extension in the current court-ordered schedule for issuing rules that would reduce harmful air emissions from large and small boilers and solid waste incinerators, which would cut emissions of pollutants, including mercury and soot. EPA is under a current court order to issue final rules on January 16, 2011 and is seeking in its motion to the court to extend the schedule to finalize the rules by April 2012. The agency said the additional time is needed "to re-propose the rules based on a full assessment of information received since the rules were proposed."[30]

March 2011: New EPA Standards for Mercury and Air Toxics Proposed

On March 16, 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its proposed emissions standards to limit mercury, acid gases and other toxic pollution from power plants, to prevent an estimated 91 percent of the mercury in coal from being released to the air. The EPA estimates that there are approximately 1,350 units affected by the action, including 1,200 existing coal-fired units.[31]

There are currently no existing national limits on the amount of mercury and other toxic air pollution released from power plant smokestacks. The 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments mandated EPA control toxic air pollutants, and the EPA took action to reduce mercury emissions from the highest-emitting sources, except power plants, as the Clean Air Mercury Rule passed under President George W. Bush was vacated by a court.[31]

The proposed toxics rule would reduce emissions of heavy metals, including mercury (Hg), arsenic, chromium, and nickel, and acid gases, including hydrogen chloride (HCl) and hydrogen fluoride (HF). EPA is also proposing to revise the New Source Review performance standards (NSPS) for fossil-fuel-fired plants. This NSPS would revise the standards new coal- and oil-fired power plants must meet for particulate matter (PM), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and nitrogen oxides (NOx). The proposed standards should reduce mercury emissions from power plants burning coal and oil by 91 percent, acid gas pollution by 91 percent, direct particulate matter emissions by 30 percent, and sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions by 53 percent, down to 2.1 million tons of annual SO2 emissions.[31]

The EPA's proposed standards are projected to save as many as 17,000 lives every year by 2015; prevent up to 120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and 11,000 fewer cases of acute bronchitis among children every year; avoid more than 12,000 emergency room and hospital visits annually; and prevent 850,000 lost work days every year. The monetized benefits from the improved health standards are estimated to be $59 billion to $140 billion annually, compared to annual compliance costs of approximately $10.9 billion. The EPA also projects that the proposed standards will create up to 31,000 short-term construction jobs and 9,000 long-term utility jobs.[32]

Requirements of the new standards include:[31]

  • For all existing and new coal- and oil-fired electric utility steam generating units (EGUs), the proposed standards would establish numerical emission limits for mercury, PM, and HCl.
  • For all existing and new oil-fired EGUs, the proposed toxics rule would establish numerical emission limits for total metals, HCl, and HF.
  • Actions available to power plants to meet the emission limits include wet and dry scrubbers, dry sorbent injection systems, activated carbon injection systems, and baghouses, all part of Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT).
  • The proposed standards would establish work practices, instead of numerical emission limits, to limit emissions of organic air toxics, including dioxin/furan, from existing and new coal- and oil-fired power plants.
  • The proposed revisions to the NSPS would include revised numerical EGU emission limits for PM, SO2, and NOX.

December 2011: New rule announced

In December 2011, the Obama administration announced the new rule to limit emissions of mercury, arsenic and other toxic substances from sources such as power plants. Under the new rule, power plants can emit 1.2 pounds of mercury per million BTUs of energy produced. Industry had sought a limit of 1.4 pounds, but the EPA arrived at its figure based on a formula set out under the Clean Air Act, and analysts said the agency could not deviate from it. Companies would have three years to clean up their emissions of mercury and about 70 other toxic substances, and utilities could appeal for at least one more year as they install the necessary equipment.[33]

Transport Rule

Acting under federal court order, the Obama administration proposed new air-quality rules on July 6, 2010, for coal-burning power plants. The pollutants being singled out in the new rule making — sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides — react in the atmosphere to form fine particulates and ground-level ozone (smog). They are easily carried by the wind and affect states and cities far downwind from the plants where they are produced. The proposed regulation, called the Transport Rule, would apply to power plants in 31 states east of the Rockies, with the exception of the Dakotas, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. The proposed rules will replace the EPA's 2005 Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR).[34][35] CAIR, passed under George W. Bush, would have allowed emissions sources in different states to trade with each other, but a D.C. Circuit Court (in North Carolina v. EPA, 531 F.3d 896) found the provision was not harmonious with the Clean Air Act, as the EPA should know the outcome of its rules in advance, at least at the state level. The transport rule responded to the ruling by largely eliminating interstate trading, although intra-state trading is still allowed.[36]

Gina McCarthy, head of the E.P.A.’s air and radiation office, said the new rules would reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides by hundreds of thousands of tons a year and bring $120 billion in annual health benefits. Those benefits, Ms. McCarthy said, include preventing 14,000 to 36,000 premature deaths, 23,000 nonfatal heart attacks, 21,000 cases of acute bronchitis, 240,000 cases of aggravated asthma and 1.9 million missed school and work days. Additionally, the rule would substantially reduce unhealthy smog. The cost of compliance to utilities and other operators of power plants would be $2.8 billion a year, according to E.P.A. estimates.[34]

The proposed regulation will require utilities operating coal-burning plants to install scrubbers and other technology to reduce emissions of the pollutants. Some companies may decide to retire older plants rather than invest in new control measures because other new rules under the Clean Air Act are expected in the coming years. The new rules do not address power plant emissions of carbon dioxide and five other pollutants that contribute to global warming.[34]

On August 21, 2012, a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. ruled 2-1 against the Transport Rule. The court determined that the rule forced states to be accountable for pollution that was not theirs, potentially making some states responsible for reducing pollution in other states that may be primarily caused by third party states. Second, the court found that the way in which the rule mandates obligations on polluting states is in conflict with existing mandates under the Clean Air Act, as the EPA did not allow states the initial opportunity to implement the required reductions within their borders. The two judges in the majority were appointed by George W. Bush; the dissenter by Bill Clinton.[37]

Greenhouse gases

For more information on greenhouse gas regulations, see also EPA greenhouse gas issues.

On December 23, 2010, the EPA issued its plan for establishing greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution standards under the Clean Air Act in 2011. The agency looked at a number of sectors and is moving forward on GHG standards for fossil fuel power plants and petroleum refineries—two of the largest industrial sources, representing nearly 40 percent of the GHG pollution in the United States. Under the plan, EPA will propose standards for power plants in July 2011 and for refineries in December 2011 and will issue final standards in May 2012 and November 2012, respectively. EPA will accept public comment on the plans for 30 days following publication of notice in the Federal Register.[38]

The EPA regulation addresses existing sources, using the statutes of the Clean Air Act's New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) to impose limits in 2012 on the amount of CO2 the biggest polluters can emit. The EPA said it would cover 40 percent of U.S. emissions.[39].

The EPA has also been developing a permitting program for new (or substantially upgraded) sources. In May 2010, the EPA issued its "Tailoring Rule," determining which sources will need to get permits (very large sources). In November 2010, it issued "PSD and Title V Permitting Guidance for Greenhouse Gases," which detailed that the permitting program would be run much like existing permitting programs: through the states.[40] The regulations will be applied to plants that were "grandfathered" (exempted) under the original Clean Air Act.[40]

On March 27, 2012, the EPA released its new rule limiting CO2 emissions from future electricity generating plants in the U.S. The EPA is proposing that new plants emit no more than about 454 kilograms of CO2 per megawatt‐hour, and would go into effect in 2013. It would have the biggest impact on coal-fired plants, but would not apply to existing plants or those already under construction. The EPA did leave the door open for companies that want to build new coal plants by allowing utilities to phase-in CO2 controls like carbon capture and storage over decades, as long as the plant's 30-year average of emissions met the new standard.[41]

Science reported that the cap is unlikely to have much impact on current U.S. energy-industry practices, as utilities are favoring new power plants fueled by natural gas: "Nearly all gas-fired power plants built in the U.S. since 2005 would already meet the standard, according to EPA, as would typical gas plants on the drawing boards. So, in practice, analysts say the new standard will probably result in few—if any—immediate changes in how utilities build or operate new power plants." EPA is expected to finalize the rule later in 2012, after a public comment period.[41]

On Sep 20, 2013, the EPA issued new CO2 rules separating coal and gas regulations. Newly built coal-fired power plants will have to keep carbon emissions below 1,100 pounds per megawatt hour—a level that will force new plants to have carbon capture and storage technology. Newly constructed natural-gas plants will be permitted to emit no more than 1,000 pounds of C02 per megawatt hour - essentially the level at which cleaner burning natural-gas plants currently perform.[42]

National Emission Standard for Hazardous Air Pollutants

The National Emission Standard for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAPs) are emissions standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for air pollutants not covered by National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) in the Clean Air Act that may cause an increase in fatalities or in serious, irreversible, or incapacitating illness, such as heavy metals. The standards for a particular source category require the maximum degree of emission reduction that the EPA determines to be achievable, which is known as the Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) [1]. These standards are authorized by Section 112 of the Clean Air Act (1970) and the regulations are published in 40 Code of Federal Regulations Parts 61 and 63.

The Clean Water Act

The Clear Water Act (CWA) "establishes the basic structure for regulating discharges of pollutants into the waters of the United States and regulating quality standards for surface waters," according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), including water pollution from coal. Its basis is the 1948 Federal Water Pollution Control Act, which was expanded in 1972 and became known as the "Clean Water Act" in 1977, after the passage of amendments. [43]

Coal plant cooling regulations

Section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act (CWA) requires the EPA to ensure that the location, design, construction, and capacity of cooling towers reflect the best technology available (BTA) for minimizing adverse environmental impacts, including thermal pollution from coal plants. The EPA has been in the process of developing a rule that will define how States will establish standards for cooling water intake structures at large power plants, and is expected to be published in the Federal Register in September 2010. The rule will apply to large existing power plants that withdraw 50 million gallons per day or more and that use at least 25 percent of their withdrawn water for cooling purposes only: an estimated 422 fossil-fueled and 38 nuclear power plants representing over 308 and 52 GW of existing capacity, respectively.[44] The rule has been repeatedly challenged by industry lawsuits[44], prompting states like CA to move forward with their own regulations.[45]

On April 1, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a series of cases -- Entergy v. EPA (07-588), PSEG Fossil LLC v. Riverkeeper Inc. (07-589) and Utility Water Act Group v. Riverkeeper Inc. (07-597) -- that the EPA may rely on "cost-benefit analysis in setting the national performance standards," when applying the CWA to power plant cooling systems. [46]

The CWA requires "power plants that use at least 50 million gallons of water a day to generate steam for electricity" to use the "best technology available for minimizing adverse environmental impact" cooling water intake structures. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the majority opinion that the CWA wording "'best technology available,' even with the added specification 'for minimizing adverse environmental impact,' does not unambiguously preclude cost-benefit analysis." [47] Legal Times called the ruling a "pro-business decision," [48] but environmental groups pointed out that the ruling allowed, but did not mandate, that the EPA include a cost-benefit analysis. The ruling stated that, under the CWA, the EPA may require power plants to use "the technology that achieves the greatest reduction in adverse environmental impacts at a cost that can reasonably be borne by the industry." [47]

The issue was relevant to older power plants. Newer plants are designed with closed-cooling systems that reduce the rate of killing small aquatic creatures by 98 percent, but "it is extremely costly to implement such systems at older plants" -- on the order of $3.5 billion annually. Less expensive cooling-system upgrades "would reduce the loss [of aquatic life] by 80 to 95 percent," reported the Washington Post. [49]

In July 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit granted EPA's request to take back part of a rule on cooling water intake structures relating to existing facilities so it can consider what might be appropriate requirements (ConocoPhillips v. EPA, 5th Cir., No. 06-60662, 7/23/10). Industries are particularly concerned about the requirements because of the high costs associated with retrofitting cooling towers. According to a 2010 report, "Special Reliability Scenario Assessment: Resource Adequacy Impacts of Potential U.S. Environmental Regulations" by the North American Electric Reliability Corp., an estimated 33 gigawatts to 36 gigawatts of generating capacity could be forced to be retired, depending on how stringent the cooling tower rule might be.[50] A 2010 study by The Brattle Group, "Potential Coal Plant Retirements Under Emerging Environmental Regulations" found that 11,000 to 12,000 MW of coal power could retire if cooling towers are mandated. According to the report, if scrubbers and cooling towers are required, it could shut down every merchant coal plant (plants that sell power into competitive wholesale markets) in the Texas ERCOT region.[51]

On December 3, 2010, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Michigan), incoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee wrote to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson that coal plant retrofits needed to meet the forthcoming cooling rules being prepared by EPA under the Clean Water Act would cost $200 million to $300 million per plant. On December 16, 2010, Jackson responded that the new rules will accommodate site-specific circumstances.[52]

Mountaintop removal mining

On March 4, 2009, Representative Frank Pallone introduced H.R.1310, also known as the Clean Water Protection Act. The bill would amend the CWA, "to clarify that fill material" -- which "replaces portions of the waters of the United States with dry land or which changes the bottom elevation of a water body" -- "cannot be comprised of waste." [53] According to a statement from Rep. Pallone's office, the bill "restores the prohibition on using waste as 'fill' that had been included in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' regulations since 1977." The bill would restrict the practice of mountaintop removal mining.[54]

In early May 2002, the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Corps of Engineers finalized changes to the definition of “fill material” that the corps can legally authorize to be dumped into streams, redefining mountaintop removal waste as “fill material” that the corps can permit to be dumped. The change came after federal Judge Charles H. Haden II of the Southern District of West Virginia's May 2 ruling that EPA and the corps don’t have authority to redefine mining waste as fill, thus undoing Haden's ruling.[55]

At the beginning of April 2010, the EPA's Lisa Jackson laid out new mountaintop removal guidelines, which may put the breaks on the practice in Appalachia and elsewhere, where valleys are filled with mining debris. Jackson stated that valley fills likely violate Clean Water Act requirements in most cases.[56]

In late June 2010, however, the U.S. EPA gave the Army Corps of Engineers a green light for the Pine Creek Mine permit, a mountaintop removal mining site located in Logan County, W.Va. The permit was the first decision the EPA issued under its new mountaintop mining guidelines. Environmentalists argued that the new MTR guidelines were understood to provide greater protection for headwater streams by curbing the practice of dumping waste in neighboring valleys to create what is known as valley fills.[57]

Coal waste

On May 4, 2010 the U.S. EPA announced two competing proposals to regulate Coal Combustion Residuals produced by coal-fired power plants. Both options fall under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Under the first proposal, EPA would list coal ash and coal waste residuals as "special wastes," or hazardous wastes, subject to regulation under subtitle C of RCRA, when destined for disposal in landfills or surface impoundments. Treatment, storage, and disposal facilities (TSDFs) manage hazardous wastes under RCRA Subtitle C, and generally must have a permit in order to operate, with land disposal restrictions. Under the second proposal, EPA would regulate coal ash under subtitle D of RCRA, the section for non-hazardous wastes. Under section D, no permit is required, monitoring is done by citizens, not the federal government, and there are no restrictions on land disposal of the waste.[14] Click here for more on the key differences between the proposed rules.

The proposal means the EPA will not necessarily declare coal ash a hazardous waste as desired by environmental groups, and the waste material could continue to be reused in various ways, EPA officials said. The final decision on which proposal the EPA and choose is to happen in July 2010,[58] but has been delayed.

The EPA decided not to choose a single option amid pressure from industry and environmental groups. The federal agency said both proposals for the first time would place "national rules on the disposal and management of the waste material from coal-fired power plants." Yet the EPA's plan leaves open the question of whether to phase out wet storage impoundments in favor of landfills, with the dueling proposals differing on the issue, according to an EPA press briefing.[59]

Carbon capture and storage

On November 22, 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued rules to protect drinking-water supplies from future efforts to bury pollution from coal-fired power plants. In an email accompanying the announcement, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson said: "The regulation is a major step in the federal government’s effort to promote a “promising technology” capturing carbon dioxide that otherwise would be emitted from smokestacks and injecting it into geologic formations such as deep-saline aquifers and depleted oil reservoirs."[60]

The drinking-water regulation governs the way carbon dioxide injection wells are located, built, tested, monitored and closed. A task force of 14 U.S. agencies said in August 2010 that carbon capture technology is currently too expensive to be used without financial and regulatory support from the federal government. According to the task force: Rules governing the “environmental soundness of injecting and storing carbon dioxide underground” must be part of a federal plan to “facilitate widespread cost-effective deployment” of the pollution-control technology after 2020. A separate EPA rule also released that day dealt with measuring the amount of carbon dioxide that’s captured and stored, designed to deal with future regulations of greenhouse gases.[60]

ALEC attempts to influence coal regulations

In July 2011, the Center for Media Democracy posted leaked "model bills" pushed by American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) corporations to try and prevent or water down environmental protections, including efforts to prevent EPA regulation of greenhouse gases and coal waste, support for the Clear Skies Initiative that was weaker than the EPA's proposed regulations on air pollutants, and the replacement of EPA regulations of particulate matter with looser state or Congressional standards.[61]

Regulations and jobs

According to 2011 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, few layoffs are caused directly by government regulations—in 2010, 0.3% of people who lost their jobs in layoffs were let go because of government regulations, compared to 25% who were cut because of a drop in demand. And the process of meeting regulations can create employment too, as workers are needed to retrofit plants and install new equipment. Citing different economists, Lynn Yang of the Washington Post concluded that "the overall impact [of regulations] on employment is minimal."[62]

Resources

Related SourceWatch articles

References

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