WASHINGTON — The leader of a group that supports mining in Colorado compared a federal proposal to impose new restrictions on coal-fired power plants to President Obama’s besieged health-care law.
“This is kind of like Obamacare for the environment,” Stuart Sanderson, president of the Colorado Mining Association said in an interview. “The government takes over what you have, which is an incredible encroachment, and you don’t get a low-cost electricity provider.”
Sanderson also suggested the Obama administration proposal would harm the economy as much as some business groups say Obamacare would.
“This ensures that no coal-fired plants would be built in the future. They would be going to China and India. That is wrong. That is just plain wrong,” Sanderson said of the two developing nations.
Sanderson’s comments reflect the strong emotions and rhetoric among both coal and environmental groups about a new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal that seeks to impose new regulations on greenhouse gas emissions. The draft rule would restrict the amount of carbon that coal plants release into the air and require them to use carbon-capture-and-storage technologies.
A spokesman for the Rocky Mountain chapter of the Sierra Club, a group that supports the proposal, did not return a voicemail requesting comment.
On its website, the EPA said the draft would “oppose the limitless release of carbon pollution from our power plants, creating cleaner air and a healthier environment for our children and for future generations.”
After the EPA announced the draft rule Sept. 20, two dozen coal-state lawmakers held a press conference outside the Capitol days later.
Last Thursday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on a bipartisan proposal that would delay the implementation of the administrative proposal. The draft proposal from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Va.) and Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) would prevent the EPA from requiring new coal plants to use carbon-capture technology until it is commercially available and give Congress the authority to determine when existing coal plants would need to implement it.
Some smaller coal-fired plants in Europe use the carbon-capture technology, according to the International Energy Agency.
Rep. Cory Gardner implied the legislative proposal is needed to reduce consumer electricity prices if the EPA proposal becomes law. The Yuma Republican asked an EPA official if environmental regulations raise or reduce electricity prices.
“Environmental regulations have been shown to be a very, very small aspect that raises energy prices,” Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation at the EPA, said.
Democrats from districts more aligned with the green lobby implied that slightly higher electricity rates was a small price to pay for a lighter carbon footprint.
“Of course these controls are more expensive than dumping carbon pollution into our air. That’s why the industry will never deploy them without governmental incentives or requirements,” Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said in a copy of his opening statement.
Nearly 600 coal-fired plants remained in the United States in 2011, according to the Energy Information Association. Ten are in Colorado, according to Sanderson. Another 36 coal-fired plants are in the planning or building phases.
Despite the fierce rhetoric and the stakes involved, the EPA and coal-state lawmakers have not finalized their proposals. The House Energy and Commerce Committee has not scheduled a day to vote on the bipartisan proposal, committee spokeswoman Charlotte Baker said.