Energy future is in innovation, not regulation

The United States depends on coal for nearly 40 percent of its electricity supply, with 48 of 50 states using coal for electricity generation to some degree. At the same time, U.S. electricity demand is expected to grow 28 percent by 2040. Coal must be a part of the energy mix to meet that growing demand.

Unfortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently proposed sweeping new standards to severely restrict emissions from all future coal power plants. What do these cumbersome regulations mean for an America only just beginning to recover from the longest recession in its history?

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Simply put, the proposed regulations will effectively ban the construction of new, modern, low-emission coal-fueled power plants, significantly increase electricity prices, and essentially abandon our most abundant and affordable domestic energy resource. 

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is not currently commercially available. By imposing CCS requirements on new coal-fueled power plants, EPA’s proposed regulations halt any plans for new plants, and the promising advances in technology such plants would bring. 

Worse yet, the proposed rules for new plants will work in tandem with pending rules for existing plants that will cause many to shut their doors for good. Indeed, more than 175 existing, low-cost plants are likely to be shuttered in the next three years, and EPA has not viable plan to replace that lost generation capacity.

As a result, consumers and businesses alike will be saddled with skyrocketing electricity costs. Among the hardest hit by these regulations will be lower and middle class Americans who rely on reliable access to low-cost electricity to manage household and business costs. And the heart of America’s economic growth – the small businesses that produce the majority new jobs in our country – will be further inhibited by increased expenses.

Fortunately, there is a better path forward – one that provides American businesses and families continued access to low-cost, reliable coal-fueled electricity, while also enhancing our energy security, advancing the Administration’s climate goals and improving our environment.

First, EPA should actively promote the construction of new high-efficiency coal plants, which would reduce carbon and other emissions continuing the technological innovation that has led to major emissions reductions over the last several decades.

From 1970 to 2012, emissions of major pollutants from coal-fueled power plants have been reduced by nearly 90 percent per unit of electricity generated, due to continued investments in new technologies. Innovation, not increased regulation, will create the next generation of advanced clean coal plants and bring new technologies, such as carbon capture and storage, to the marketplace.

Regulations that prevent today’s utilities from improving these technologies by upgrading existing plants and building new state-of-the-art facilities effectively shuts the door to future innovation and use of our nation’s abundant, low-cost coal resources. 

Second, EPA should encourage oil field operators to use carbon emissions from existing plants to enhance oil recovery from oil fields. Geologic injection and storage operations for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) and other purposes have been used safely in many locations of the U.S., and other areas of the world, for decades.

Accelerating the use of carbon emissions for EOR turns such emissions into a resource, and unlocks additional oil supplies previously not economically recoverable. In turn, this can help keep gasoline prices lower, further reduce carbon emissions, and continue to advance the commercial potential of carbon capture and geologic storage.

This alternative to excessive, stifling regulation is a major win for the American economy, consumers and the environment. It would provide continued access to cleaner, low-cost, coal-fueled electricity, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and contribute to more reasonable gasoline prices. 

It is imperative that policy-makers in Washington understand that the key to our global energy future lies in innovation, not regulation. To dramatically reduce emissions we must advance deployment of supercritical technology. As we have proven time and time again, there is no problem that American innovation cannot solve if we are given the opportunity to do so.

Coddington is a partner in the Washington, D.C. law firm of KMCL Law.