By Edward Whitfield and Joe Manchin
Among the many things Government can do in the broad public interest, and surely among the first things it should do, is to secure an affordable and reliable supply of electricity for its people and its industries. The blessings of liberty may be secured by laws and custom, but the blessings of modern civilization are unthinkable without electricity, a truly indispensable commodity in the 21st century.
Our country has enjoyed the advantage of low-cost electricity for so long that we may be taking it for granted. This may be about to change.
That's the disturbing conclusion we draw from regulations proposed by EPA for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. EPA would require new coal-fired plants to use carbon capture technology that has not yet been proven on a commercial scale for power plants and is very unlikely to be available for at least a decade or more. The deliberate effect is to rule out for future use the one energy source that provides more electricity than any other. The agency's proposal leaves us with little doubt about its intentions for regulating emissions from existing coal plants with a separate rule expected to be proposed this summer.
Aside from the doubtful legality of mandating undemonstrated technology for real world application, EPA's approach is irresponsible as public policy in two ways.
First, the agency is taking a dangerous gamble with the nation's economy. By removing coal from future use, EPA weakens if not destroys what has been a strength of our economy -- a diversified energy portfolio. The result is a far less reliable electricity grid, a risky reliance on one major fuel source for generating base load power, and the certain prospect of higher electricity prices. Lincoln advised us "not to swap horses in midstream." Good advice now as then.
The gamble EPA is taking with affordable and reliable electricity is disturbing enough, but even more so for being entirely unnecessary for environmental improvement. EPA could achieve significant and steady reductions in greenhouse gas emissions without sending price shocks throughout the economy by requiring best in class technology that is available for use today. Gasification and supercritical coal are proven technologies suitable for large-scale use, effective for reducing emissions and available for new plant construction. Compared to older plants they replace, advanced plants with these technologies use at least a third less coal to generate the same amount of electricity and emit 35 percent less carbon dioxide. This common sense approach would minimize further loss of coal-generating capacity that has already greatly exceeded the agency's forecasts. In fact, EPA's estimates of plant retirements from its regulations have proven as flawed as its reassurances that its rules will impose little or no costs on consumers.
Because EPA insists on ignoring common sense solutions, we are proposing one of our own. Our bill will base emissions standards for new plants on the best performing technologies actually in use today. For existing plants, Congress will weigh in to ensure that states are accorded the proper role intended for them under the Clean Air Act, and that consumers are not subject to skyrocketing costs. Far from barring EPA from controlling greenhouse gas emissions, by insisting on standards based on proven technologies our approach will actually work.
We will not improve the livelihood of Americans or the health of the environment with emissions standards based on technologies that are unproven with costs that are unaffordable. It's time we provided workable solutions, not unrealistic aspirations.