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Government, Politics & Issues

Commentary: Consumers need protection in the war on coal

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Once again, the Obama administration is waging war on affordable energy for families and small businesses in states like Missouri.

The Environmental Protection Agency recently announced New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) requiring future coal-fired power plants to curb or capture at least 40 percent of their carbon emissions and force the use of expensive equipment that is not technologically proven – leading to higher energy costs for families and job creators in Missouri and nationwide.

The “war on coal” is really just a war on consumers. Nearly 40 million American families earning less than $30,000 a year already spend almost 20 percent of their budgets on energy costs. By putting in rules that would basically ban the construction of new coal plants, the EPA is punishing our nation’s most vulnerable families who suffer the most from bad energy policy and higher utility bills.

Why the Obama administration wants to effectively ban new coal plants makes even less sense when coal is cleaner than ever. Before 2012, sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions were at 77 percent per megawatt hour (MWh) and 82 percent per MWh respectively. By 2015, they will be down to 25 percent and 11 percent per MWh.

These reductions are in part due to innovations like supercritical technology. Because plants using supercritical technology operate at higher temperatures and pressures, they achieve higher efficiencies than conventional units and achieve significant emissions reductions. Since 2000, 12 coal plants across the country have installed this technology. One of these plants is Kansas City Power & Light’s Iatan 2 plant, and another is in Illinois across the river and just south of St. Louis, the Prairie State coal plant.

When EPA issued a proposed NSPS in March of last year, it said if someone wants to build a coal plant, that operator must install carbon capture technology – which, by EPA’s own admission, would “add 80 percent to the cost of electricity.”

An 80 percent increase to the cost of a coal plant would be prohibitively expensive, especially at a time when the country needs high-efficiency coal plants to replace those closing due to other costly EPA rules.

The proposal was so controversial that it received more than 2 million comments. U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., and I even introduced an amendment requiring the EPA to set an NSPS rule using emission rates categorized by fuel type and based on technology that is commercially available.

The Obama administration obviously failed to listen to the concerns of the American people and instead decided to move forward with this controversial rule. That’s why I recently co-sponsored a resolution of disapproval filed by U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to stop the EPA from imposing this rule. The CRA provides a procedure for expedited consideration in the Senate.

As we try to jumpstart our economy, struggling businesses and households more than ever need to continue to have diverse and affordable electricity supply.

Higher energy costs result in less disposable income in families’ pockets. That means less money to spend on groceries, doctors’ visits and education. Low-cost energy is critical to human health and welfare.

I’ve fought hard against these burdensome and costly regulations, and I’ll continue to push for affordable energy for Missouri’s families and small businesses.

In March 2013, I introduced an amendment to the FY14 Budget to prevent a carbon tax. I’ve also repeatedly questioned the administration on assigning unreliable estimates for a “cost” associated with carbon emissions. This is really just a de facto carbon tax buried in the cost-benefit calculations of energy related rulemakings. These costs were created by a group of unelected bureaucrats and will only result in increased energy costs to households and businesses, hampering the country’s economic growth.

The American people want the administration to stop picking winners and losers through regulatory policies that penalize the low-cost energy sources like coal, which they depend on.

There’s no reason we should threaten the substantial amount of electricity in Missouri and across the country that comes from this affordable and abundant resource. I’ll continue to push back on the Obama administration’s burdensome regulations and promote smart policies that encourage more American energy and more American jobs.

Roy Blunt, a Republican, is a U.S. senator from Missouri.

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