The Environmental Protection Agency got a little backup Wednesday in a federal lawsuit challenging its carbon emissions standards for new-build coal-fired power plants. Two amici curiae briefs, one submitted by carbon capture and storage scientists and another by academics whose work focuses on technology innovation, asserted that contrary to the arguments of the petitioners, the EPA is correct in determining the feasibility, as required by the Clean Air Act, of partial CCS for emissions reduction on new-build coal-fired power plants.
“This standard is based on the deployment of well-established CCS technologies that have been successfully deployed in industrial applications for decades, are commercially available, and have been proven to be technically viable for power plants on the scale required for compliance with the rule,” the scientists’ brief says.
The lawsuit, led by North Dakota and filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, challenges the merits of the rule, which essentially mandates the use of partial CCS on all new-build coal-fired power plants. The rule requires that individual new-build coal units cap emissions at 1,400 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour using partial carbon capture.
Under Section 111(b) of the Clean Air Act, the section under which the NSPS was drafted, the EPA must determine the best system of emissions reduction (BSER) for the source being regulated — in this case, coal-fired power plants. In determining the BSER, the EPA must prove the system selected is adequately demonstrated and achievable.
Petitioners challenging the rule argued that because no commercial-scale CCS projects on coal-fired power plants are currently operational in the U.S., and those nearing completion rely heavily on government funding, the technology is not “adequately demonstrated.”
North Dakota is joined in the suit by: West Virginia; Murray Energy Corp.; the Energy and Environment Legal Institute; the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers; Peabody Energy Corp.; the Utility Air Regulatory Group; the National Mining Association; the Indiana Utility Group; the United Mine Workers of America; Alabama Power Co.; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity; Luminant Generation Co.; and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.
According to the scientists, the 1,400 pounds of CO2/MWh cap would capture 354,000 metric tons (MT) of CO2 per year from an illustrative new-build 500-megawatt supercritical pulverized coal plant. “[T]here are many CCS systems in operation today that capture significantly more than 354,000 MT CO2 per year. One notable example is the Boundary Dam project in Canada: a CCS retrofit to an existing lignite-fueled coal-fired power plant which successfully captured and stored 800,000 MT CO2 in the past year,” the brief says.
The innovation experts also stressed that the technology is adequately demonstrated and that the costs are reasonable and will drop. “Based on the state of the technology and their expertise in the dynamics of technological advancement, amici have concluded that, under the Rule, CCS technology will follow a learning curve similar to that observed in other pollution control technologies, such as sulfur dioxide (SO2) capture systems,” the brief says. “Those learning curves exhibit an inverse relationship between levels of diffusion and cost; as adoption of the technology becomes more widespread throughout the global market, the capital and operating costs of that technology decrease.”
Oral arguments in the case are set for April 17, 2017.