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Biden EPA’s New Rule Puts Reliable Electricity at Risk, Experts Say

A new rule from the Biden Environmental Protection Agency is pushing America’s power grid to become greener, but energy experts say they are worried the results will be brown. It could produce a lack of available electricity leading to brownouts for businesses and households across the U.S.

The EPA’s new rule, announced last week, requires most gas and coal-fired power plants currently in operation to cut their carbon-dioxide emissions by 90 percent by 2040 or shut down. It also discourages the construction of new gas-fired plants by imposing expensive new standards on them, too.

The EPA’s method for achieving those cuts from the plants that provide most of America’s electricity is “carbon capture,” preventing carbon emissions from reaching the atmosphere. The problem, experts say, is the technology doesn’t exist yet.

The National Mining Association, for example, has been an outspoken advocate for carbon capture. But in the wake of the rule, NMA’s spokesperson Conor Bernstein said the EPA’s proposal just isn’t realistic.

“Cost, technological maturity, and extraordinary infrastructure and permitting challenges all stand in the way,” Bernstein said. “Mandating the use of this technology at this stage is nothing more than another attempt to drive the coal fleet off the grid with immense ramifications for mining communities, consumers and …. the reliability of the nation’s power supply.”

And that reliability is in real danger, according to Glen Thomas, president of the industry group PJM Power Providers. It is one of the nation’s largest grid operators, providing electricity to 13 states and the District of Columbia. During a Pennsylvania state Senate hearing earlier this month, Thomas warned lawmakers that energy shortfalls were on the horizon, particularly on the Eastern seaboard.

“Demand is increasing, supply is retiring, and it’s not being replaced by the quantity of assets necessary to sustain reliability,” Thomas said.

The risk is very real, grid operators warn. On Christmas Eve last year, PJM asked its customers to “reduce their use of electricity” and “conserve as much as possible” in order to “help ensure adequate power supplies” as an Arctic air blast drove temperatures down. Two months later, PJM issued a report warning about 20 percent of its power generation could be retired by 2030. The new Biden EPA rule will only accelerate that process.

And it’s not just PJM. U.S. Rep. Cathy Rodgers (R-Wash.) pointed out in a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last month that “blackouts, brownouts, and energy rationing have become far too common in the past few years.”

The primary cause of those disruptions, Rodgers wrote, is “a lack of generation capacity” due to “the premature retirement of dispatchable generation resources, like coal, nuclear, and natural gas, and the rapid expansion of intermittent resources, like wind and solar, onto the bulk power system.”

The Biden administration touts renewables like wind and solar as the solution. But even after years of subsidies, wind and solar combined provided just 15 percent of America’s electricity in 2022, less than the 18 percent from nuclear power. Fossil fuel continues to provide more than 60 percent of electricity on the grid.

Eliminating coal and natural gas without a reliable alternative puts the U.S. at risk of severe energy shortages. But according to Marlo Lewis, Jr. of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, that appears to be the Biden administration’s goal.

The new rule “will empower the EPA to regulate coal and natural gas generation out of the power sector,” Lewis said. “This is the government sending a very strong political signal: Don’t bother investing in new coal or combined cycle natural gas, and don’t spend a lot of money keeping older plants going.”

A spokesperson for the EPA told DCJournal, “EPA’s analysis found that power companies can implement the standards with a negligible impact on electricity prices.” Price fluctuations, she said, would remain “well within the range of historical fluctuations.”

And Andres Restrepo, a senior attorney for the Sierra Club’s Environmental Law Program, told DCJournal concerns about increased blackouts “don’t necessarily pencil out.” He believes the costs to consumers of the plan will be minimal.

“The biggest requirements, the really substantial emission reduction requirements for these sources, are not going to kick in until the 2030s,” Restrepo said. “At least for existing coal plants, those units are already running less and less often. They’ve been really substantially reducing their utilization. Requirements that those be carbon-neutral will drive significant retirements, but that’s happening anyway. It will just accelerate the pace of it.”

Opponents of the Biden rule say the U.S. Supreme Court is almost certain to shoot it down, as it did the EPA’s Obama-era “Clean Power Plan.” But the messaging to the energy industry to stay out of the fossil fuel space could result in more power plant retirements, even as demand for electricity rises. And that, said Craig Stevens with the pro-business group Grow America’s Infrastructure Now, would mean higher prices.

“The EPA’s proposed rules threaten the energy security power grid and will raise utility costs for Americans,” Stevens said. “The Biden administration is simultaneously pushing Americans to adopt electric everything – cars, stoves, trucks – but then announces rules that could cripple our already-strained power grid.

“They are learning an important lesson the hard way – American oil and gas fuels almost every aspect of our lives, including the electricity running through EVs.”

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Commonwealth Court Issues Injunction Blocking Wolf’s RGGI Move

Opponents of Pennsylvania’s entry into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) are celebrating after the Commonwealth Court granted an injunction Friday suspending the state’s implementation.

“This delay is an important, much-needed step for Pennsylvania residents and businesses,” says Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry President and CEO Luke Bernstein. “We appreciate the court pressing pause on this policy, which threatens to significantly increase energy prices at a time of high inflation, while also pushing more economic activity to states on our grid who are not in RGGI.”

Bernstein says businesses and families are already facing high energy prices due to a lack of supply and infrastructure.

“This is an opportunity for policymakers to embrace abundant domestic energy production, facilitate building new infrastructure, support competitive markets, and set long-term policies that encourage innovation.”

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) is also concerned that Pennsylvania’s participation in RGGI, not to mention the Wolf administration’s unilateral and unconstitutional push to put the state in RGGI without going through the legislature.

“NFIB is thrilled the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania has granted a preliminary injunction to Gov. Wolf’s unconstitutional energy tax,” said Greg Moreland, NFIB Pennsylvania’s state director. “For years, our members have complained about rising energy costs, and with inflation at 8.6 percent, RGGI may have been the nail in the coffin for energy-intensive small businesses.

Like the state Chamber, NFIB Pennsylvania hopes the governor will come to the table and negotiate with the legislature.

“We all want a clean environment,” says Moreland. “We just have different beliefs on how to achieve that goal.”

Gordon Tomb, Senior Advisor for the CO2 Coalition, says schemes such as RGGI do little more than transfer wealth from taxpayers and consumers to the special interests of wind and solar.

“Technologies that are expensive and unreliable,” adds Tomb.

Pointing to a recent Caesar Rodney Institute analysis, Tomb says billions of dollars have been poured into these so-called green energy sources with the only reduction in CO2 emissions coming from the expanded use of natural gas.

“As providers of energy and as stewards of the environment, RGGI’s favored technologies are abject failures.”

RGGI bills itself as a cooperative, market-based effort among northeast and mid-Atlantic states to cap and reduce CO2 emissions from the power sector.

“It represents the first cap-and-invest regional initiative implemented in the United States,” RGGI boasts on its website.

Wolf has wanted Pennsylvania in RGGI for years. As of 5 p.m. Friday, Wolf had not issued a press release or tweet about the Commonwealth Court injunction. However, he has stated on several occasions that state participation in RGGI is needed to help combat man-made climate change.

“Climate change is the most critical environmental threat confronting the world, and power generation is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions,” Wolf said in 2019 after an executive order instructing the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to join RGGI. “Given the urgency of the climate crisis facing Pennsylvania and the entire planet, the commonwealth must continue to take concrete, economically sound, and immediate steps to reduce emissions, (so), joining RGGI will give us that opportunity to better protect the health and safety of our citizens.”

Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association (PMA) filed a friend of the court brief in Commonwealth Court saying Governor Wolf’s carbon tax on Pennsylvania energy generation will “irreparably damage” the state’s manufacturing, industrial, and commercial base.

“The new tax, pursued over the objections of the General Assembly, will also result in sharp increases in energy rates for consumers,” the groups noted.

Even unions have expressed concerns about RGGI.

“Thousands of blue-collar, union workers who build, operate, and maintain those plants will be lost,” says the Power PA Jobs Alliance, a coalition of labor, management, and consumer stakeholders that oppose state proposals that impose carbon dioxide emissions taxes. “Nearly 100 percent of CO2 reductions from Pennsylvania power plant closures will be offset by increased CO2 emissions in non-RGGI states, like Ohio and West Virginia, which will absorb Pennsylvania generation, emissions, and jobs into those states whose plants are not subject to the tax.”

As for Wolf’s argument that RGGI is necessary to combat climate change, Tomb disagrees.

“There is no climate emergency, and the theory that we are somehow threatened by carbon dioxide emissions is absurd on its face,” said Tomb. “Carbon dioxide is a harmless gas that each of us exhales on a daily basis, about two pounds of it on a daily basis, so it is ridiculous.”

The CO2 Coalition examined the governor’s proposal for RGGI and found that there was no scientific basis for it.

“Number one, there is no threat from carbon dioxide or whatever to the climate,” Tomb said. “Secondly, even if there were, the governor’s proposal RGGI would have virtually zero effect on the weather.”

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