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WSJ: An EPA Death Sentence for Fossil-Fuel Power Plants: Biden new rule means the end of natural gas-fueled electricity

By The WSJ Editorial Board

Progressives groused that the Inflation Reduction Act lacked “enforcement mechanisms” to punish fossil fuels. Well, the White House took care of that Thursday with a new 681-page Environmental Protection Agency proposed rule that amounts to a death sentence for fossil-fuel power plants.

The Supreme Court last summer blocked the Obama Clean Power Plan, which would have forced a generation-shift in electric power to renewables from coal. The Biden EPA’s plan would do that and more by other means that are also probably unconstitutional.

Section 111 of the Clean Air Act says the EPA can regulate pollutants from stationary sources through the “best system of emission reduction” that is “adequately demonstrated.” Yet the EPA wants to require that fossil-fuel plants adopt carbon capture and green hydrogen technologies that aren’t currently cost-effective or feasible, and may never be. Only one commercial-scale coal plant in the world uses carbon capture to reduce emissions, and no gas-fired plants do.

Even if power plants implemented carbon capture, their cost of generation would double, rendering them less competitive against subsidized wind and solar power. There’s also the not-so-small problem of permitting. Thousands of miles of pipelines would have to be built to transport carbon to geologic structures where it can be injected.

The EPA is sitting on permit applications for carbon sequestration facilities. Pipelines to transport CO2 would invariably run into the same regulatory roadblacks as those carrying oil and natural gas. Iowa farmers are already battling a pipeline to carry CO2 from ethanol plants to underground rock formations in North Dakota and Illinois.

Natural gas plants might be able to comply with the rule by blending hydrogen into fuel. But almost all hydrogen today is produced from natural gas, so this wouldn’t result in a net reduction in CO2. Hence, EPA wants to make gas plants use “low-greenhouse gas” hydrogen produced from renewable electricity, which is three to four times more expensive.

Blending more hydrogen into gas also increases NOx emissions and puts plants out of compliance with other EPA regulation. To reduce NOx, power plants would have to install new turbines and other equipment, some of which is only now being developed.

Alternatively, power plants can shut down, as most probably will. The EPA has been stacking burdensome rules onto coal plants, including three others since March, with the goal of forcing them into premature retirement.

“By presenting all of those rules at the same time to the industry,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said last year, “the industry gets a chance to take a look at this suite of rules all at once and say, ‘Is it worth doubling down in investments in this current facility? Or should we look at that cost and say now it’s time to pivot and invest in a clean energy future?’”

But the clean energy future is still the future, and the technologies that EPA wants to mandate don’t exist. Forcing fossil-fuel plants to shut down prematurely will endanger grid reliability. Don’t worry, EPA says, plants won’t have to fully comply for seven to 12 years. But their owners and utilities must make economic investment calculations today.

The proposed rule won’t make an iota of difference to the climate as China and India ramp up coal power. Even EPA’s CO2 emissions reduction estimate over the next two decades amounts to only a third of that between 2010 and 2019 as natural gas replaced coal.

The EPA is gambling that it can sneak this through the courts. But the rule is a de facto mandate to shift to renewables from fossil fuels, which Congress never explicitly authorized. The Supreme Court’s 5-4 Massachusetts v. EPA decision that let the agency regulate greenhouse gas emissions rests on shaky ground. EPA is inviting a legal challenge that could boomerang, and let’s hope it does.