Coal utilities are urging the White House in an eleventh-hour plea to push back the Obama administration's timeline for cutting carbon emissions at existing power plants, saying the aggressive deadlines pose a threat to electric reliability.
The Environmental Protection Agency's proposed plan simply does not give enough time to build the transmission lines and other resources needed to make up for the power plant losses already taking place under other EPA regulations, said Melissa McHenry, director of communications for American Electric Power.
The coal utilities are already closing a significant number of power plants to comply with separate EPA rules for controlling mercury and acid gases at power stations. The Clean Power Plan, scheduled for finalization in August, would exacerbate those losses by requiring states to swiftly adapt under an overly aggressive timeframe that could lead to reliability problems and power outages, the utilities say.
The Clean Power Plan lays out an aggressive schedule for states to develop and implement plans to lower greenhouse gases beginning in 2020, to meet a 30-percent emission reduction goal by 2030. Many scientists say that greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from burning fossil fuels such as coal, are driving manmade climate change.
It's "too much too soon," McHenry said. The main concern is that there is not enough time to comply with the interim targets that begin in 2020, she says. That's when the states will have to work the hardest to reduce emissions. American Elecrtric Power, states and others have raised the timing issue for months. EPA said it is planning to address the concerns once the plan is made final. Yet, McHenry and others say nothing has been recently communicated on the EPA's plans.
Other industry advisers say they are convinced that nothing will change based on the discussions the Obama administration is holding before finalizing the rules, and that the EPA and the White House codified the basic regulations months ago with perhaps minor changes.
Big coal utilities American Electric Power and Duke Energy met Monday at the White House to discuss its concerns over the Clean Power Plan, the center of President Obama's climate change agenda.
The White House Office of Management and Budget is conducting the meetings as part of its final review process. The final meetings on the Clean Power Plan began last month and should wrap up soon, according to officials tracking the meetings.
Once the meetings conclude, the rule could be issued at any time, making it law once it is published in the Federal Register.
Last week's meeting was the second time big coal utilities met with White House officials in the last few weeks to discuss the problems they see with the Clean Power Plan, according to the Edison Electric Institute. "This meeting was part of our ongoing outreach efforts on the Clean Power Plan," said Quin Shea, the group's environmental affairs vice president. "EEI's comments submitted to EPA in December outline several areas of industry concern with the [rule's] guidelines as they have been proposed, and provide suggestions to address those concerns."
The coal utilities' CEOs and the head of the Edison Electric Institute, Tom Kuhn, sat down with President Obama's senior climate change adviser, Brian Deese, and EPA air chief Janet McCabe to discuss the problems they see with the regulation.
McHenry noted that the administration also sat down with a number of other utilities last week, representing nuclear and natural gas companies, which don't share the same concerns as the coal utilities.
Companies such as Calpine, the country's largest natural gas-fired utility, and NextEra have a "little different" take on the EPA climate rules than coal utilities, she said. They tend to be "much more supportive of the end of coal-fired generation," she said.
The meeting with the gas and nuclear utilities was held Wednesday.
The utilities were represented as a coalition, called the Clean Power Plan Initiative, and include Calpine, Exelon, NextEra, PG&E, National Grid, Dominion Energy, Austin Energy, PSEG, Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, Seattle City Light, and the New York Power Authority. The coalition in comments sent in December to the EPA said it supports the emission rules and believes the agency has the legal standing to move forward.