With great fanfare, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule last fall that would require all newly built coal-fired power plants in the U.S. to install an expensive new technology called carbon capture and storage, or CCS. Although the technology has never been installed on a large-scale power plant anywhere in the world, it theoretically will separate the primary greenhouse gas—carbon dioxide—from the plant’s exhaust and pump it to underground reservoirs for storage.
The proposal instantly set off controversy. Many technical experts (including Burton Richter, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist at Stanford) believe that CCS isn’t ready for prime time. EPA’s proposal claims it is adequately demonstrated and can be installed at a reasonable cost. The Clean Air Act requires the agency to establish both of these factors before forcing plants to install a particular technology.
That’s when things got weird.
Shortly after the proposal was released in September, EPA administrator Gina McCarthy defended carbon capture and storage in a highly publicized interview on PBS, describing it as a “technology that we believe is available today.” Then, on Nov. 25, the EPA regional office in Texas did an about-face when it decided that Exxon Mobil XOM +0.22% would not have to install the technology in its planned chemical plant (such plants emit carbon dioxide) in Harris County, because it would be prohibitively expensive.
Enter the Sierra Club, which challenged the EPA’s Exxon Mobil decision on Dec. 26. Last week, three administrative law judges on the agency’s Environmental Appeals Board upheld the Texas office’s decision not to require CCS. Why? Because the EPA regional office found, and the judges agreed, that the “addition of CCS would increase the total capital project costs by more than 25%.”
To read more: [topic=http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303480304579575993716327878?mg=reno64-wsj&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle%2FSB10001424052702303480304579575993716327878.html&fpid=2,7,121,122,201,401,641,1009]Mr.
Potts is a partner at the law firm Foley & Lardner LLP.
Image: Southern Co.’s Kemper County power plant stands under construction near Meridian, Mississippi, U.S., on Feb. 25, 2014. Bloomberg
By Brian H. Potts | May 22, 2014 7:18 p.m. ET | The Wall Street Journal | www.online.wsj.com