On January 16, 2014 the U.S. Department of Energy approved $1 billion in funding for a carbon capture and sequestration project in Meredosia, Illinois. The so-called FutureGen 2.0 project is a major pilot project supported by DOE to demonstrate the efficacy of capturing greenhouse gas pollution from coal-fired power plants and storing it underground. The remaining cost of the project will need to be taken on by private industry.
The project is part of the Obama administration’s commitment to “clean coal,” which it argues will provide a pathway forward for the coal industry despite the high costs. The move comes at a time when both coal industry supporters and detractors step up their efforts.
On the same day as the FutureGen announcement, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) testified at a hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) on the President’s Climate Action Plan. At the hearing, Senate Republicans attacked the administration’s regulatory maneuvers as further evidence that the administration wants to kill the coal industry.
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In particular, Republicans focused their ire on the EPA’s carbon pollution standards proposed last fall. The standards would set the first overall limits on greenhouse gases that can be emitted from new power plants. The EPA set them in such a way that it would be nearly impossible to build a new coal-fired power plant without carbon capture technology.
Republicans attacked on multiple fronts. First, they trotted out familiar denunciations of EPA regulation as a “war on coal.” Second, they also accused the administration of delaying the publication of the rule in order to avoid a fight during the mid-term elections. Although EPA announced the proposal in September 2013, it was only published in the Federal Register in January 2014. This is important because the EPA then has one year to finalize the rule once it appears in the Federal Register – meaning the delay allows finalization to occur after the November elections. McCarthy denied doing so, instead pointing to a backlog at the Federal Register.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is also hoping to force a vote in the Senate over the EPA carbon standards later this year, in an effort to put moderate Senate Democrats on the spot amid tough reelection fights. Meanwhile the Attorney General of Nebraska has filed a lawsuit over EPA’s limits, arguing that the agency overstepped its authority and that the “impossible standards imposed by the EPA will ensure no new power plants are built in Nebraska.”
Democrats are pushing back, however. On January 14, a group of Democrats announced a renewed effort to spark action on climate change, which would likely have carbon pollution restraints at its core. And while fossil fuel groups and Republicans attack Obama on his climate initiatives, a coalition of environmental groups are beating up on the President from the other side. A letter sent by 18 green groups called for the White House to step on climate change, saying his “all-of-the-above” strategy is at odds with cutting pollution. Sierra Club’s President emphasized the point, saying, “you can’t have it both ways.”
President Obama is often accused of waging a “war on coal,” but these days it seems more like he is caught in the middle of a fight over the trajectory of U.S. climate policy, in which both sides won’t back down.
By. Nick Cunnigham