The environment editor of the Wall Street Journal sat down with the CEOs of Rio Tinto and American Electric Power Co. in March for a discussion about the predicted demise of coal power. When asked about predictions that a third of the country’s coal fleet will be retired in the coming years, AEP CEO Michael Morris said the forecast “has everything to do with the approach that the EPA may or may not take.”
A slew of notable EPA rulemakings affecting coal-fired power plants are on the horizon. Chris Amandes, a partner at Vinson & Elkins, estimates around eight rules are currently in the pipeline that will require major adaptations from coal-fired power plants. “All these rules coming together more or less at the same time, with respect to investment horizon for a coal plant or the time required to [make] some of these improvements, means they’re all going to hit the industry over a six- to eight-year period,” he says. “It really implicates our energy policy on a national level.”
The Interstate Transport Rule, proposed in July 2010, identifies 31 states and the District of Columbia that make it impossible for downwind states to meet federal ozone and fine particulate matter standards. It requires those states to make reductions in sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions that travel over state lines. Although it applies to all power plants, it would have the largest impact on coal-fired power plants.
Moving outside the confines of the Clean Air Act, the coal industry also is readying for federal regulation of the disposal of coal combustion residuals, often called coal ash, the country’s second-largest source of industrial waste. Coal-fired power plants use pollution-control technologies to capture the byproduct, which contains dangerous pollutants.