In November a Kentucky electric co-op leader gave Congress an especially clear description of how federal Environmental Protection Agency rules are doing great harm without doing any good.
The explanation by Tony Campbell, president and CEO of East Kentucky Power Co-op, came as part of testimony before a House subcommittee. He detailed how regulations to limit emissions of greenhouse gases from coal-burning power plants would raise electric rates and damage the economy. And all that damage won’t even achieve the intended result of limiting global warming.
You can find a report on Campbell’s testimony in this issue. But I want to highlight in this column what’s wrong with the EPA’s approach. Regardless of your opinions about global warming, there’s reason to worry about the results of the regulations.
The whole energy and environment discussion can get impossibly complicated, but here are the main problems with the EPA rules:
Coal shock: The flurry of regulations makes it harder and harder to generate electricity with coal. Coal fuels 40 percent of the electricity in the nation, and more than 90 percent in Kentucky. That’s huge. There is no clear replacement for that share of our electric energy.
Iffy technology: For future coal power plants, the EPA proposes “carbon capture and storage.” This technology “captures” greenhouse gases before they leave the plant, and stores them in a permanent site, like underground rock formations. This technology is just in the beginning test stages, and several huge problems would need to be solved before it could be used.
Economic damage: EPA coal plant regulations are already reducing coal mining jobs and raising electricity costs. That’s going to get worse.
No benefit: As Tony Campbell points out, U.S. coal plants account for just 4 percent of world greenhouse gas emissions. Even a complete coal shutdown wouldn’t significantly affect global warming trends.
There are proven ways to burn coal more efficiently that could be implemented more widely. Carbon capture should be on a more realistic timetable. EPA regulatory effects on the economy, and the actual benefits, should be considered.
The EPA could achieve its goals more effectively and with less damage if it worked with the utility industry rather than against it.