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Re: Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units, Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2013-0602
Dear Administrator McCarthy:
EPA action on climate change is welcome and overdue, but must rise to the scale of the challenge, and must be done in a way that is just, science-based and not riddled with loopholes.
The Clean Power Plan falls short in several ways and must be strengthened so that it does not worsen global warming and pollute impacted communities with other harmful emissions.
The rule must:
- Set more aggressive targets
- Comply with the Civil Rights Act and address environmental justice
- Regulate power plants (not states) and disallow pollution trading and offsets
- Close the methane loophole and not bless the move from coal to gas, which is worse for the climate than coal
- Close the biogenic CO2 loophole, and disallow a shift from coal to biomass and waste incineration, whose CO2 emissions are also worse than coal
- Disallow nuclear power subsidies
- Disallow new investment in old coal plants
- Reject carbon capture and sequestration and enhanced oil recovery
Set more aggressive targets
The science demands deeper emissions reductions than the proposed 30% reduction in power plant CO2 by 2030 from 2005 levels. 2005 was the second highest year and is an inappropriate baseline. CO2 emissions have already dropped 15% as of 2013. If we're already half-way there without any policy, clearly we can be more ambitious. Science demands an 80-95% reduction below 1990 levels by 2050, and 25-40% reduction by 2020, if we're to stabilize CO2 concentrations at 450 ppm, yet we're already seeing consequences at 400 ppm, and global equity demands even quicker and more aggressive targets.
Comply with the Civil Rights Act and address environmental justice
EPA and the states are legally bound to comply with Title VI of the Civil Right Act of 1964 which prohibits racial discrimination by recipients of federal funds. EPA must develop a process to analyze state programs and, prior to approval, ensure that there will not be discriminatory effects when implemented. EPA should require that impacted communities are centrally involved in the development of state implementation plans in an open and transparent public involvement process.
Regulate power plants (not states) and disallow pollution trading and offsets
The Clean Air Act regulates facilities, not states. The responsibility for meeting standards of performance must placed on the power plant owners. Only by putting the responsibility where it belongs will the rule avoid inappropriate and unjust pollution trading schemes, offsets and other methods that skirt the obligation to reduce emissions directly. As the Center for Race, Poverty and the Environment eloquently points out in their comments, Section 111 of the Clean Air Act does not permit pollution trading. It's illegal and must be not be permitted in state plans. Pollution trading allows emissions reductions in one community to justify continued pollution in another, which tends to have a disparate impact where communities of color and low-income communities are the ones that remain most polluted. Offsets schemes (often from outside of the power sector) create similar problems and are hard to track, verify and enforce. State plans and performance standards must be federally enforceable by EPA and citizens.
Close the methane loophole and not bless the move from coal to gas, which is worse for the climate than coal
Natural gas is worse than coal for the climate, when methane gas leakage is accounted for. By ignoring methane, the rule encourages the current major shift from coal to gas, as hundreds of new gas-fired units are proposed, replacing coal units across the U.S.
If gas leakage exceeds 3.2%, it becomes worse than coal for the climate. Leakage rates have been found to be far higher at fracking sites alone, not to mention substantial leakage in pipelines, compressor stations and distribution systems. EPA has vastly underestimated gas leakage, and industry researchers know that the leakage rate cannot be brought low enough to be less bad than coal.
EPA has also vastly underestimated the potency of methane, operating on outdated science. In 2013, EPA updated its global warming potential for methane from being 21 times as potent as CO2 to 25 times. The same year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change adopted the latest science showing that methane is 34 times as potent as CO2 over 100 years, and 86 times as potent over a 20-year time frame. EPA ought to use the 20-year time horizon, as it fits within the 2030 goal of this policy and this shorter-term time horizon is appropriate to use to avoid global warming tipping points by appropriately prioritizing methane.
No climate plan should aim to replace one fossil fuel with another, when studies show that we can move to conservation, efficiency, solar, wind and energy storage in the same time frame, meeting our energy needs with 99.9% reliability and at no increased cost.
Close the biogenic CO2 loophole, and disallow a shift from coal to biomass and waste incineration, whose CO2 emissions are also worse than coal
According to EPA's eGRID database, trash incinerators release 2.5 times as much CO2 as coal power plants do per unit of energy, and biomass incinerators releases 50% more CO2 than coal. Despite this reality, EPA is determined to ignore CO2 emissions from all waste-based "biomass" and most other biomass incineration, as affirmed in the revised biogenic CO2 accounting framework, just released two weeks prior to the Clean Power Plan comment deadline.
We cannot address global warming by burning the very carbon-storing forests we need to be preserving. Numerous studies have debunked biomass carbon neutrality claims and have shown that, even if new and additional tree growth is made to happen, it takes 4-5 decades to bring levels down to that of coal, and centuries for "carbon neutrality" to be reached, if ever. Carbon emissions are not reduced by regrowth within the time frame for compliance with this rule. EPA must stop pretending that "biogenic" CO2 in the atmosphere does not count.
Switching from coal to biomass fuels or wastes that release more CO2 per unit of energy is not a reduction. Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act requires on-site emissions reductions. EPA's slight-of-hand used to ignore biogenic CO2 relies on looking at life-cycle impacts of biomass growth and speculates on what would happen if these fuels or wastes were not burned, preferring to assume even more damaging alternatives in order to make biomass burning look like an improvement. This speculation is inappropriate, as less-emitting alternatives are possible and ought to be promoted instead.
If biomass can be evaluated by looking at life-cycle impacts, so should natural gas. EPA cannot have it both ways. Either look at methane leakage from natural gas, or look only at the smokestacks and disallow biomass or waste incineration from being considered a low-CO2 alternative to coal.
On trash incineration specifically, EPA calculates that 47% of the CO2 emitted from trash incineration is fossil-derived (such as plastics), and is not "biogenic." However, the plan would still allow waste incineration CO2 emissions to be ignored, even though the fossil/plastics-burning portion is enough to make CO2 emissions from trash incinerators 50% worse than coal.
CO2 is not the only pollutant emitted from incinerators. By giving a green light to trash incinerators, EPA is supporting emission sources dirtier than coal, which release 28 times as much dioxin than coal per unit of energy produced, twice as much carbon monoxide, three times as much nitrogen oxides (NOx), 6-14 times as much mercury, nearly six times as much lead and 70% more sulfur dioxides.
EPA's Office of Solid Waste is pushing forward with a radical redefinition of waste, which allows unregulated waste burning in hundreds of thousands of boilers around the country, by redefining many wastes as fuels, avoiding incinerator regulations. This misguided pro-incineration approach must stop, and accurately accounting for CO2 emissions from waste burning is one good place to start, lest we turn the nation's coal power plants into unregulated waste incinerators, worsening climate and community health impacts.
Disallow nuclear power subsidies
Nuclear power should not be promoted by the Clean Power Plan, for several reasons. It's uneconomical, is monstrously expensive, and cannot exist without tremendous government subsidies and liability insurance caps. Licensing and building new nuclear reactors takes at least a decade and typically involves cost-overruns. Conservation, efficiency, wind and solar can be implemented much faster for much less money. The inflexible baseload power from reactors is incompatible with future electric grids run on decentralized and flexible intermittent sources.
The plan encourages states to keep open the six ailing nuclear power plants that are seeking to close, and would have states subsidize the five new reactors currently under construction. Four of the five are in majority black communities, which is a Title VI violation. Routine radioactive releases from operating reactors contribute to increases in thyroid and breast cancer, leukemia and infant mortality in reactor communities. There is still no solution for containing the radioactive waste. Pollution throughout the fuel chain, from uranium mining to milling to conversion to enrichment to fuel fabrication is unaccounted for in the "Clean" Power Plan, as are the greenhouse gases from all the fossil fuels used to make the fuel, build/operate the power plants, then cool and isolate the waste for centuries. Uranium mining and waste disposal are disproportionately in Indigenous communities, another Title VI violation.
Nuclear reactors also use huge amounts of water and due to cooling water needs, they're an awful global warming solution, as they increasingly have to shut down or cut back power on the hottest summer days when their power is needed for high air conditioning demand. Accident risk from increasingly dangerous aging reactors is also a matter to be taken quite seriously. For all of these reasons, states should not be permitted to subsidize existing or new nuclear reactors for Clean Power Plan compliance.
Disallow new investment in old coal plants
Spending money on improving efficiency at existing coal power plants is misguided. Ultimately, coal has to go. Geology has a "war on coal" that will cause it to become more expensive over time, as the remaining reserves are much deeper and more costly to extract. Investment dollars ought to go directly into conservation, efficiency, wind, solar and energy storage, not into maintaining coal burning for a limited number of years until more money will need to be spent on the inevitable clean energy transition.
Reject carbon capture and sequestration and enhanced oil recovery
Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is unproven, risky, energy inefficient, and economically unviable without government subsidies. It risks contamination of ground water sources, and leakage over time. It's even more misguided where this alleged CO2 "sequestration" is used for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) -- allowing oil to be extracted that would otherwise have stayed in the ground.
When CO2 is pumped into the ground to produce extra oil, it comes back out with the produced oil, and the CO2 released from the ultimate burning of that oil can easily exceed the amount "sequestered" by this process.
The Clean Power Plan is a great opportunity to move the nation away from combustion-based energy technologies and toward reduced demand and 100% clean (non-nuclear) energy production. Please work to close these various loopholes so that the plan brings us where science (not industry) says we need to go.