Monday, November 17, 2008

Sierra Club Wins Big Victory Against Coal-Fired Power Plants

GreenBiz, November 13, 2008

One battle in the ongoing war between environmental groups and the Bush Administration's EPA may finally be over: the EPA's Environmental Appeals Board today handed down a ruling that will essentially hand the reins for regulating CO2 from coal-fired power plants to the Obama administration. 

The ruling comes in response to a complaint the Sierra Club filed against a proposed new coal-fired power plant in Bonanza Utah. In the ruling, the appeals board says the EPA should reconsider whether CO2 is considered an air pollutant, and thus should be regulated under the Clean Air Act. Most notably, a new decision by the EPA should consider whether or not to require new power plants to use the "best available control technology" to reduce CO2 emissions. 

But the ruling will affect more than just the Utah permit: the board writes, in part, that it "recognizes that this is an issue of national scope that has implications far beyond" the one Utah facility, and that the EPA should reconsider CO2 emissions on a national level. 

Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope summed up the impact of the ruling today on The Huffington Post:
The EAB ruled today that the EPA had no valid reason for refusing to limit carbon dioxide emissions from new coal-fired power plants. The decision means that all new and proposed coal plants nationwide must go back and address their carbon dioxide emissions. This puts an effective hold on the final permitting of almost all new coal plants until the Obama administration decides on the best available control technology for CO2 emissions from coal plants.
Over at the politics blog Daily Kos, user WattHead has a somewhat more detailed analysis of the ruling, looking ahead to what the decision will mean for the Obama administration. The Associated Press also has a short article on the ruling, and includes a quote from a lawyer for energy companies that are seeking permits from the EPA as saying that today's news represents "a punt to the Obama administration." 

Given Obama's public support of clean coal technology, it seems more than likely that his administration's EPA will embrace using the latest technologies to make coal as clean as possible. Of course, it remains to be seen whether that results in more new (but less-polluting) coal-fired power plants, or whether the high costs that utility companies fear from installing new technologies leads to an end of new plants altogether.

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