Just before Christmas, as we previously reported, the EPA slipped a rather nasty lump of coal in our collective stocking with their new Utility MACT rules. These went into the books over the protests of virtually the entire energy industry, which noted that the limits were too restrictive and the window for implementation would endanger the nation’s power grid. But apparently they’d like to take that coal analogy to a more literal level, because the EPA is coming back for another bite at the apple with a new set of Utility NSPS rules. (New Source Performance Standards)

The latest battle will be coming any day now, as the EPA has said it will issue its Utility NSPS (New Source Performance Standards) sometime in January. Any new utility plants will have to meet a new set of environmental standards – standards that conveniently work out great for natural gas but are prohibitively expensive for coal plants, even new ones, to meet.

In capitalist terms, this means the United States can say goodbye to the construction of any new coal plants on its soil.

Sadly, this war on coal didn’t start here. Last month, moments before Christmas weekend, the EPA released its new Utility MACT (Maximum Achievable Control Technology) rule, which set new emissions standards for pre-existing U.S. coal and oil power plants. The EPA did this in spite of the fact that the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) warned in November that such a rule would shut down as many as 300 coal power plants at the same time. Some of the older plants would be unable to meet the post-modern standards so quickly.

While it will doubtless win great approbation for Obama with environmental groups who have recently been disappointed with the president over Keystone XL, this is yet another example of regulatory overreach attempting to do a job which the industry is already doing. As I’ve stated before, coal is probably my least favorite form of hydrocarbon based energy, but the industry is already moving in other directions. And the fact is, coal accounts for far too much of our current energy base to simply wish it away overnight in an effort to satisfy the environmental lobby. There are coal plants which are currently undergoing conversion to natural gas, but the process is almost prohibitively expensive and each region has to manage the transition in an economically viable fashion and on a schedule which won’t bankrupt them. When the government attempts to force the process to satisfy green warriors – such as they were doing in Kentucky last year – disaster ensues.

Just as the economy has shown a few tentative steps toward possible recovery, I can think of no better way to shut it down than by shedding even more jobs in the energy industry, driving up utility costs and putting additional strain on the power grid. Apparently this won’t become clear to the EPA until the lights begin going out.

Tags: coal energy