The climate change bill that passed the House in June is not perfect. One of its weaknesses is that dirty coal-fired power plants will get heavy subsidies in exchange for votes from Midwestern Democrats representing coal-heavy districts. Specifically, the 5 percent share ...
The climate change bill that passed the House in June is not perfect. One of its weaknesses is that dirty coal-fired power plants will get heavy subsidies in exchange for votes from Midwestern Democrats representing coal-heavy districts. Specifically, the 5 percent share of carbon allowances offered freely to coal-fired generators could net the companies between $2.7 billion to $5.5 billion a year.
And if cap-and-trade is approved in the Senate, those same plants -- many of which were grandfathered in under the 1977 Clean Air Act and continue to operate without adequate environmental regulation -- could see a lot more activity. Kari Lydersen has a great piece today in the Washington Post exploring that possibility:
If a climate-change bill drives up the cost of opening new plants, but provides free emissions allowances or potential carbon offsets for existing facilities, companies could have an incentive to squeeze even more power out of their old plants, many of which are running well below capacity.
Some environmental groups are urging the Senate to include in its version of the legislation provisions to prevent that. But the legislation passed by the House in late June -- known as the American Clean Energy and Security Act -- mandates a 50 percent carbon reduction by 2025 for new plants, but puts no site-specific carbon-reduction requirements on existing facilities.
Unfortunately, the Sierra Club's Jack Darin points out that Chicago isn't the only community in the state reliant on what the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago's Brian Urbaszewski calls the "clunkers of the power-plant world." In all, there are more than a dozen still in operation in the Land of Lincoln. Here's a map plotting the plants that run purely on coal:
View Coal-Fired Power Plants in a larger map
Dan Riedinger, spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute industry group, told Lydersen that it will be less efficient to retrofit these older plants with carbon capture or other greenhouse-gas-reduction technologies, so utility companies will gradually shift their resources to new facilities. But there is no guarantee that those new technologies will ever be viable. And unless they can be scaled, there is a serious danger that the fears of environmentalists and public health experts will become a reality.
According to Darin, what's needed is "clean national standards for emissions that apply to all coal plants." In the meantime, clean air advocates are ramping up their efforts to protect communities most affected. Several watchdogs announced plans last month to sue the owners of Midwest Generation, which operates both Chicago plants, for alleged violations of the Clean Air Act. If we have to keep using the plants -- which a 2001 Harvard School of Public Health study suggested caused 41 premature deaths and 550 emergency room visits per year -- the company needs to clean up its act.