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Sean Hackbarth  F. Carter Smith/Bloomberg.EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. Photographer: F. Carter Smith/Bloomberg.

West Virginia MetroNews reports that at a Senate committee hearing, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, was forced to defend the viability of the carbon capture and sequestration technology, the key component of proposed greenhouse gas rules for new electric power plants:

“Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is not commercially viable,” [North Dakota U.S. Senator John] Hoeven said. “So how are we going to build any new coal plants even with the latest technology and CCS with your latest proposed rules?”

McCarthy said told Hoeven the EPA believes CCS is “technically feasible.”

But the Republican senator shot back: “I did not say technically feasible. I said commercially viable.”

McCarthy answered that “technically feasible” is the standard under the law.

However, the Clean Air Act states that technology mandated has to be “adequately demonstrated,” and EPA must consider its costs. These are hard standards for CCS to meet when no commercial power plants are using it, and its first commercial application in Mississippi is undergoing cost overruns. Experts and former administration officials understand that CCS is years away from being viable and will mean added electricity costs. Southern Company, which is building the Kemper power plant, says it “should not be used in developing a national standard for greenhouse gases.”

Back to McCarthy’s testimony. According to a Politico Pro report, at the committee hearing, she said, “We think [CCS] is the future, and we think facilities are investing in it now.”

CCS might be the future, but we live in the here-and-now where EPA regulations are pushing reliable, coal-fired power plants offline and pushed a coal producer into bankruptcy:

James River Coal Co., a mine operator in Logan and Mingo Counties, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection as part of its effort to turn around its business.

The Richmond, Va.-based company says it faces challenges from the weak economy, environmental regulations and competition as electrical-generating utilities switch from coal to natural gas.

Sean Hackbarth  Ian Wagreich / © U.S. Chamber of Commerce.FirstEnergy CEO Tony Alexander speaks at the CEO Leadership Series. Photographer: Ian Wagreich / © U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Being in the electricity industry for over 40 years, FirstEnergy president and CEO Anthony Alexander has seen many challenges, but he told an audience at the U.S. Chamber’s CEO Leadership Series:

[T]he challenges we now face from government interference in the electric business are far more intrusive and disruptive, and I believe far more significant to our industry’s future, and to your future.  That’s because whether it impacts our traditional regulated business or our competitive operations, government policy is now aimed at stifling the growth and use of electricity – and picking winners and losers in the competitive marketplace.

“Electricity is under attack in our country – and this battle is being waged through largely untested policies…” – Alexander #CEOFirstEnergy

— Energy Institute (@Energy21) April 8, 2014

One of those intended losers is coal:

I believe state and federal policymakers are manipulating the supply and demand, and distorting markets for electricity, to further advance the “war on coal.”  And, the convergence of government policies, laws and regulations aimed at coal use – both directly, through EPA rules, and indirectly, through subsidies, preferences and mandates – will lead to higher prices and less reliable service over the long term.

For example, as a result of the U.S. EPA’s mercury and air toxics standards, an estimated 376 coal-based units will close in 38 states over the next three to five years.  That’s nearly 17 percent of our nation’s coal fleet’s capacity.  And, there are additional EPA rules being considered that could have similar impacts on the fleet.

“Due to EPA regs, 376 coal-based units (17% of the nation’s fleet cap) will close in 38 states in 3 to 5 years.” #CEOFirstEnergy #USChamber

— FirstEnergy Corp. (@firstenergycorp) April 8, 2014

But what about natural gas? Alexander noted that while we’re benefiting from increased natural gas production, “substantial changes will be needed in the natural gas pipeline and storage infrastructure to make it match the just-in-time nature of the electric system.”

We saw that this past winter during the polar vortex:

Some generating units were off-line as natural gas was used to meet higher priorities – and the entire market was affected by a substantial increase in the price of natural gas.  To put this price increase in perspective, it was the equivalent of paying about $85 per gallon of gasoline!  

The regional grid was under severe stress during this weather event.  And the lesson learned should be obvious:  We need to maintain a diverse fleet – including real generating assets such as coal, nuclear and natural gas – to ensure reliable, affordable service over the long term.

What’s needed from Washington are policies that advance energy diversity, reliability, and affordability. Not policies that pick energy winners and losers.

“We must reaffirm this nation’s long-term energy policy in favor of diversity of supply, reliance on the market." #CEOFirstEnergy #USChamber

— FirstEnergy Corp. (@firstenergycorp) April 8, 2014

Sean Hackbarth NBC: Nebraska Town Sees Economic Benefit Of Building Keystone Pipeline Video of NBC: Nebraska Town Sees Economic Benefit Of Building Keystone Pipeline

The Keystone XL pipeline was the topic of a Meet the Press segment on Sunday. First there was a segment on Steele City, Nebraska, where the northern leg of the pipeline will end. Margo Deangelo, owner of a local restaurant, said:

It does boost the economy for everyone around here. Me, my employees, that might mean difference in an employee getting a new car. Might mean a new air conditioning system for the tavern or I might be able to have a vacation.

The roundtable then discussed the Keystone XL pipeline's delay. Opinions were nearly unanimous in favor of the pipeline.

Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker said:

I would say, "Let's get that pipeline going.  Let's make sure we have everything in place to protect the environment as much as we possibly can."

Former Democratic Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. added:

As you know, the State Department's conducted study after study after study, including one after the president claimed that if approving the Keystone Pipeline would exacerbate carbon pollution, then he would be against it.  The most recent report from the President's own State Department suggests that this would not exacerbate the carbon footprint, number one.

The State Department’s environmental analysis also found that moving crude oil via the Keystone XL pipeline would produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions than alternative transportation method. If limiting greenhouse gas emissions is your goal, then you should tell the President to end the delay and permit the pipeline's construction.

Sean Hackbarth  Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg.Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg.

Whenever you hear someone trying to scare people by claiming that hydraulic fracturing pollutes drinking water or causes earthquakes, point them to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. Earlier this week, the former petroleum engineer told a House committee that hydraulic fracturing “can be done safely and responsibly.”

“I do believe [#fracking] can be done safely and responsibly, and has been in many cases” - @SecretaryJewell

— America's Nat. Gas (@ANGAus) April 3, 2014

Yet the Interior Department continues work on duplicative efforts to regulate the activity. This spurred Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) to ask, “If they’re doing a fantastic job and we haven’t seen bad results, isn’t this the classic case of the hammer looking for the nail?”


Jewell isn’t an outlier. This Energy In Depth infographic shows other top officials have also declared hydraulic fracturing to be safe.

 Top regulators tout safety of hydraulic fracturingINFOGRAPHIC: Top regulators tout safety of hydraulic fracturing