Clean Air Task Force's Schneider discusses latest delay on NSPS

With the release of U.S. EPA's New Source Performance Standards delayed once again, what are the political impacts for the Obama administration in proposing this rule during an election year? During today's OnPoint, Conrad Schneider, advocacy director at the Clean Air Task Force, discusses the latest delay and possible details of the NSPS.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Conrad Schneider, Advocacy Director at the Clean Air Task Force. Conrad, thanks for coming on the show.

Conrad Schneider: Thank you for having me.

Monica Trauzzi: Conrad, EPA announced it's delaying the release of its New Source Performance Standards. What's your take on the delay? Is this a political calculation?

Conrad Schneider: You know, our sense is that EPA is diligently trying to do a good rule and that it's not so much of a political delay. There was not a firm, fixed court deadline since last fall in terms of when the rule was going to come out. And I think they are finalizing some of the pieces of the rule. I don't get the sense that this is some sort of long delay. Gina McCarthy this week in Phoenix said, you know, February, that they're on track to issue the rule in February and that's the latest we've heard and we'll take that at face value.

Monica Trauzzi: Do you think it's politically risky for EPA just to generally release this during an election year?

Conrad Schneider: Well, to the contrary. You know, we think clean energy is good policy and good politics, so if there's risk involved, probably sitting on the rule longer is risky. It allows other people to characterize what it might look like, as opposed to what it really is. So, we would encourage the administration to put it out there. We think it can be defended, we think it's necessary and we think the American people understand that it's an important step toward a clean energy future.

Monica Trauzzi: Industry is watching this closely and, you know, they're concerned about EPA maybe going a little too far. There's talk about an NSPS lite. What's your sense on how strong this rule may actually end up being?

Conrad Schneider: Sure. Well, you know, we haven't seen it, so we don't know, but we'd strongly encourage the administration to send a clear signal that there are not going to be any more uncontrolled coal plants built in this country going forward. There is technology that's available and feasible, that can capture and sequester carbon from coal plants. There's no reason not to use it and there's no reason for EPA not now to require it, so that's what we're looking for in terms of this rule. Whether that's strong or light, I'll let others characterize.

Monica Trauzzi: And do you mean that for new and existing power plants or is this specifically for new?

Conrad Schneider: Well, that would be for new, that would be for new.

Monica Trauzzi: OK.

Conrad Schneider: For existing, and I'm glad you raised the existing power plant issue, because the package that's over at OMB right now evidently only includes rules relating to the new. EPA apparently still working on the ones for existing. We'd very strongly support the administration getting out a proposal on the existing plants as well this year. You know, this is the -- these two rules together are the most important energy and climate decision that the Obama administration is going to make this year. And existing power plants are where the carbon is. Once Willie Sutton was asked, a famous bank robber, why do you rob banks? And he said, well, that's because where the money is. Well, coal plants is where the carbon is and if we're going to do something about climate change, and we need to, we need to deal with existing coal plants.

Monica Trauzzi: So, if they were to just release the rule for the new builds and perhaps not address the existing power plants, does that still send the signal that you believe should be sent?

Conrad Schneider: Well, it sends a very important signal, particularly if it requires either now or soon carbon capture and sequestration on new builds. That's going to be critical. From the Clean Air Task Force's perspective we look at sort of two benchmarks. We look at the near-term benchmark that the Obama administration has set 17 percent reduction from 2005 levels by 2020. And we look at the two -- the 2050 target of 80 percent reduction. There is no mathematical way that you can get an 80 percent reduction in power sector CO2 without having every fossil fuel plant in 2050 have carbon capture and sequestration. If we want that to happen by 2050, we need to begin now to have this technology fully commercialized and deployed. This rule can send that signal.

Monica Trauzzi: Well, and this is one of the key issues here, the fact that CCS has not been demonstrated on a large scale at this point. Is the cart being put ahead of the horse a bit by releasing this rule and not having a technology that exists that can be put in place?

Conrad Schneider: I would very strongly politely quarrel with your characterization. I believe that there are three parts of carbon capture and sequestration technology. One is the capture, one is the transport from the point of capture to sequestration points, and then the third is the sequestration. And all three parts of this technology have been demonstrated. In fact, there are four projects that are going forward right now that are integrating each of those. There's the Southern Company's Kemper County plant in Mississippi, Summit Power's Texas project, Tenaska's Taylorville project in Illinois and the Leucadia Corporation's Indiana gasification project in Indiana. And all of those integrate those different features of carbon capture and technology, but individually, whether it's the capture or the transport or the sequestration, each of those technologies have been demonstrated, some for decades. So, we believe that the technology is available, feasible, affordable. There's no excuse not to move forward with it. And part of our job in this at the Clean Air Task Force is really to redress the misimpression that people have that somehow this technology is not ready or that we're putting the cart before the horse.

Monica Trauzzi: One of the other issues that industry has with this potential rule is that EPA may sort of have a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to different fuel types. What is EPA on the record as having done in crafting these types of rules in the past when it relates to fuel and how do you think that might sort of foreshadow what they're going to do here?

Conrad Schneider: Yeah, basically, you know, let me just I think EPA understands this is a coal unit rule. It's a coal plant rule and it's not a gas rule or it's not a coal as gas rule. It's a rule that will apply to new coal units and we think that that's appropriate. Now, economically companies may decide to opt for new gas plants rather than coal, but we don't see this rule either having it or needing to have, you know, to be set as a gas rule. Coal can meet this standard on its own merit with technology I've described, so there's no reason for them to go beyond coal in that regard.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, we'll end it there. We'll watch this closely. Thanks for coming on the show.

Conrad Schneider: Thank you, Monica. It's a pleasure.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

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