EPA unveils tighter regulations on carbon emissions, experts call them 'coal killer'

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published Friday its long-awaited new regulations aimed to set strict limits on the amount of carbon pollution generated by any new power plant in the country.

The draft rules, however, are likely to face legal challenges and a backlash from congressional supporters of the coal industry, as the guidelines will reshape where Americans get electricity. In other words, EPA will steer consumers away from a coal-dependent past into a future fired by cleaner sources of energy.

Some media reports are saying that EPA is also pushing for separate standards that will set much stricter limits on coal mines. And down the road, it is expected to tackle emissions from the thousands of existing power plants already operating.

While EPA is banning the construction of new coal-fired power plants, it said it would make exceptions for those built with innovative and expensive technology to capture greenhouse-gas emissions.

Though such carbon-capture technologies —used in the sequestration method—are available, they are extremely expensive in terms of capital costs, which is not a viable option for investors at the moment.

“If reports are true, the EPA is set to issue a rule that will completely halt the development of new coal-fuelled plants by requiring they meet unachievable carbon standards,” American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity President Mike Duncan told The Daily Caller.

“The American people should not be fooled. If the EPA overreaches, its actions could drastically reduce our nation’s fuel options, risk tens-of-thousands of jobs and destroy, not encourage, the development of new carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology,” Duncan was quoted as saying.

"In theory, this could mean a moratorium on all new coal plants for decades to come," writes Brad Plumer in his blog at The Washington Post.

Safety concerns

Not only carbon-capture technologies are expensive, but also worrisome for some, as their use involves burying the carbon underground.

Steven Chu, until recently Obama's energy secretary, warned in a 2007 talk sponsored by the Berkeley Lab in California that sequestration could be dangerous and bring legal challenges for those involved.

“There would be people saying, 'I don't want this done in my backyard,' because if the carbon dioxide ever does bubble to the surface it could actually kill people," he said. "Ten percent carbon dioxide is lethal. And so that's … one of the issues."

Not a single power plant has fully installed the technology so far.

Coal, which is already struggling to compete with cheap natural gas, accounts for 40% of US electricity.

The country's coal industry has been struggling as of late. Total production is on track to fall to a 20-year low of a little more than 1 billion tons this year. And the lack of interest from investors is more evident than ever before. As a prove, the government held an auction for mining rights to a hot, coal-rich tract of land in Wyoming in August, and didn't attract a single bid.

Image of coal burning plant in Utah by arbyreed.