Guest Editorial


Has the EPA lost its mind?

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robert romanoHere's a bright idea. When the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issues a new regulation requiring retrofitting or that some new technology be used by energy providers, perhaps they should double-check to see if the technology actually exists yet.

That is the subject of new legislation by Chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) that would ensure that EPA standards for all types of new power plants are achievable using existing technology.

Smith all but called carbon sequestration mandates fictitious in his statement: "By requiring carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology that doesn't even exist, the EPA's new power plant proposal effectively bans new coal power. There is no coal power plant anywhere in the world that can meet the EPA's radical proposal."

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is already required to set standards using the "best system of emission reduction" with technology that has been "adequately demonstrated."

The Smith bill would reinforce that aspect of the law and guarantee that the agency is not setting an impossible standard, thus killing the electrical grid when no provider could meet the new requirements.

Coal as a percent of the net electricity generation has dropped from 49 percent in 2007 to 37 percent in 2012, according to the Energy Information Agency (EIA). For now, this is being partially offset by increases in natural gas.

But, that actually represents a smaller piece of a smaller pie, EIA data shows. While natural gas has increased electricity production by 330 billion kilowatthours (kWh) to 1.132 trillion kWh a year in 2012, coal production has dropped by 498 billion kWh to 1.5 trillion kWh.

Largely as a result of the coal plant closures, overall electricity generation in the U.S. has dropped from 4.005 trillion kilowatthours (kWh) in 2007 to 3.89 trillion kWh in 2012 meanwhile end use has only decreased from 3.89 trillion kWh in to just 3.832 trillion kWh.

The difference between electricity generation and end use, or implied spare capacity, has dropped from 115 billion kWh to 58 billion kWh from 2007 to 2012.

That's a decrease of almost 50 percent — leading to worries that very soon the ability to keep up with demand could be compromised and brownouts could be on the horizon.

But by requiring that providers use technology that does not even exist as a prerequisite to selling electricity, the outcome could be devastating, with more than one third of the supply at risk.

To paraphrase the words of the immortal Harold Ramis, we could wind up with a grid that is substandard and completely inadequate for our power needs.

Considering the practical, potential impact of the new EPA regulation, one has to wonder if that isn't precisely what the agency has had in mind all along.

Robert Romano is the senior editor of Americans for Limited Government.