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Why new carbon sequestration rules matter

Ecotrope | Nov. 22, 2010 6:56 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:44 p.m.

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Today, the EPA finalized new rules on carbon capture and sequestration that aim to protect drinking water sources and account for the sequestered carbon.

Carbon sequestration is one way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, though the technology to do it is still largely unproven. Today, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said the Obama administration’s new rules are represent “major steps” toward making sequestration innovations a reality.

These new rules fit within the EPA’s plan to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions starting in January. Despite political outcry over these new rules, Judith Lewis Mernit at Grist writes they won’t break the bank for existing polluters – in part because sequestration technology is still in its infancy. “If you can’t catch it,” she argues, “you can’t cut it”:

“Let’s get this one thing straight: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s plan for regulating greenhouse-gas emissions from stationary sources under the Clean Air Act — a “tailoring rule,” which goes into effect January 2, 2011 — is nothing radical. States may be suing, a bipartisan swarm of senators may be politicking to stop it, energy lobbyists may be fretting their usual frets about jobs and the economy, but the rule won’t shut anyone down.

It can’t: For one thing, it only applies to the largest new carbon-emitting facilities or significant modifications of large facilities.

For another, the regulatory arm of the federal government has no more interest in making life difficult for industry than does Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.,), who’s leading the Congressional charge to delay the rule. Written into EPA’s policy guidance is a provision that says hey, if it costs too much, forget it. We won’t hold you to it if it’s going to break your bank.

And since there currently exist zero proven control technologies for the most notorious greenhouse gas, which is carbon dioxide, it’s unlikely any new facility will be forced to implement pricey, radical, as-yet-unproven capture measures.”

She goes on to suggest that the absence of carbon sequestration technology will make it less likely the EPA will force major cutss in emissions:

“The rulemaking was triggered by a landmark 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision requiring EPA to regulate greenhouse gases if the agency found they endangered public health. Two years later, EPA’s scientists found that they did, and went to work crafting rules that would apply to greenhouse gases. The rules are based on “best available control technology,” an age-old standard for reducing emissions of pollutants such as the sulfur that makes rain acidic.

The problem, of course, is that carbon dioxide isn’t like sulfur dioxide or mercury pollution. You can’t scrub it, absorb it or flush it out – the best hope for reducing carbon emissions is capture and sequestration, and no one believes that technology is ready for prime time.

“Every time I see a new study on sequestration it’s always 10 or 15 years from now,” says Pat Parenteau, a professor at Vermont Law School. “And I’ve been reading that same forecast for 10 or 15 years. So unless they’re saying ‘don’t burn coal,’ what the EPA is doing won’t amount to more than, as we say in Vermont, ‘a pee-hole in the snow.’”

But the EPA can’t say “don’t burn coal,” Becker says. Instead, the control technologies will be hammered out case-by-case basis, where states work closely with regulated facilities to come to a permitting agreement.”

Critics, I should note, still see the new EPA rules costing the U.S. lots of jobs, and want Congress to block the EPA’s new rules. From William Shughart II at Big Government:

“If we’ve learned anything from clean-air regulation to date, it is that there is no low-cost way of substantially curtailing ground-level ozone or greenhouse-gas emissions within a relatively short time frame, which the EPA insists is necessary.

Fossil fuels account for 85 percent of America’s energy resources. We use oil, natural gas and coal—and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future—because they are plentiful and affordable.

All EPA regulation of greenhouse gas emissions will accomplish is to impoverish America, while doing little to cut emissions globally.

Increased energy consumption in China and other developing economies will offset any reductions in the United States. It is an unwise and dangerous move that would compel us unilaterally to curtail our use of fossil fuels significantly, one consequence of which would be a decline in our country’s economic well-being.

The EPA’s proposed ozone standard exemplifies arbitrary over-regulation that will destroy jobs and harm our economy without any offsetting benefit.

Congress should block the EPA move.”

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