EPA rewrite of Clean Power Plan rule could let some coal plants keep running – and stay dirty.

August 29, 2018

One of the main advancements of the past half-century at coal-burning power plants has been the “scrubber,” a clean-air device that played a major role in ending the acid-rain crisis of the 1970s and that removes millions of tons a year of a pollutant blamed for respiratory disease.

However, the Trump administration’s proposed rewrite of climate-change regulations – entitled the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) Rule – could enable some of America’s dirtiest remaining coal plants to be refurbished and keep running for years without adding scrubbers or other modern pollution controls such as selective catalytic reduction according to an Augusts 24, 2018 New York Times report.

Industry lawyers and former federal officials say the policy shift is one of the most consequential pieces of the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal, announced August 21, 2018, to replace the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which was designed to slow the pace of climate change in part by encouraging the retirement of older coal plants and a shift toward greener energy sources.

“This is a power plant life-extension rule masquerading as a climate rule,” said Kate Konschnik, a Bush-era Department of Justice lawyer who handled lawsuits against coal-burning power plants, which she said would now become much harder to file.

Currently, about 30 percent of the nation’s coal-burning power plant units do not have scrubbers, devices that use a cloud of fine water droplets, along with crushed limestone, to pull sulfur out of the plant’s exhaust before it reaches the atmosphere. Another 22 percent of plants do not have advanced nitrogen oxide controls (selective catalytic reduction) that limit smog.

Many of these older plants benefited from a grandfathering provision in federal law that didn’t require them to add advanced pollution controls unless they underwent major renovations.

Under current rules, such major retrofits of old plants often come with a big demand: The owners must also spend hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade the air-pollution equipment to the best available technology, including scrubbers.

The proposed rule change would let older plants be updated with newer and more efficient working components like boiler feed pumps and steam turbine upgrades, potentially extending their operating lives for years, while allowing them to avoid the requirement for the updated pollution controls, which can cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

What this means to you
The Trump administration’s proposed rewrite of the Clean Power Plan regulations could enable some of America’s dirtiest remaining coal plants to be refurbished and keep running for years without adding SO2 scrubbers or NOx selective catalytic reduction.

MIRATECH can help
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