GUEST VIEW: Energy industry warns of ‘irreparable harm’ from new emissions rule

By Jessica R. Towhey

The EPA’s new carbon emissions rule is aimed at shutting down the nation’s remaining coal-fired power plants, an energy industry group says, and the result will be higher electricity rates and fewer jobs. And in recently filed legal documents, they lay out the specifics of the “irreparable harm” of the regulations.

“EPA’s rule is designed with one purpose in mind: to force the premature retirement of most, if not all, coal-fired power plants in the U.S.,” said Michelle Bloodworth, the president and CEO of America’s Power. “The rule would accomplish this goal by offering utilities three no-win compliance options that lead to more coal retirements. These premature retirements are a clear threat to grid reliability, as grid operators have pointed out recently, and to the economic health of the nation’s coal supply chain.”

America’s Power represents the U.S. coal fleet and its supply chain. Last month, it filed a motion opposing the regulations, adding to challenges filed by 27 states and numerous other organizations.

Under the rule, existing coal-powered plants to shutter by 2032, co-fire with natural gas before 2030 and then shutter by 2039, or install technology capable of capturing about 90 percent of carbon emissions before 2032. America’s Power, however, said that the second and third options are neither technically nor economically feasible.

Coal-fired plants would need to secure approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to build natural gas infrastructure. An analysis from America’s Power found that the commission would need to approve more than 30 gas pipelines to meet the demand, and it approved only five last year.

“There’s just no way that the numbers work,” said Paige Lambermont, a research fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in the Center for Energy and Environment.

Worse, grid operators warn, these power plant shutdowns will come as demand for electricity soars under Biden administration policies to electrify more of the economy.

America’s Power’s lawsuit includes declarations saying that, based on the timing of the rule’s release, they will need to make “legally binding obligations to close power plants while the rule is being litigated.”

Power producer after power producer have laid out bottom-line consequences from the rule in their court filings, detailing specific consequences that will be felt by customers and employees.

Basin Electric Power Cooperative in North Dakota stated that the capital costs through 2035 to come into compliance would be nearly $10 billion.

“Basin Electric will need to replace approximately 2,600 MW of baseload, dispatchable generation significantly earlier than planned as a result of the Final Rule,” the cooperative wrote. “Additional expenses resulting from the Final Rule will result in a rate increase of approximately 60 percent for (Basin) members by 2035.”

Associated Electric Cooperative, which supplies local co-ops in Missouri, Iowa and Oklahoma, estimates its capital costs at more than $3 billion.

“Even by as early as next year, the rates that Associated Electric charges are expected to increase more than 50 percent above the increase that would be expected (without the rule),” the co-op stated. “That expected increase is due directly to the massive costs that the (coal-fired plant rule) creates.”

The 51 local electric cooperatives that Associated Electric supplies serve 935,000 homes, farms and businesses, which will see the increased rates passed onto them by their individual co-ops.

“America needs more electricity, not less, and yet the EPA is trying to kill gigawatts and gigawatts of reliable power just when demand is starting to grow,” said Tom Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance. “That’s not speculation. The New York grid operator is warning of massive shortages because of green energy’s part-time performance. This regulation is a recipe for even higher electricity rates and increased risk for blackouts.”

The timing of the rule is not a coincidence, Lambermont said. It runs parallel with recent pushes to mandate the transition to all-electric vehicles in California, the complete electrification of the power grid, and even efforts to replace gas stoves with electric cooktops.

“Renewables get so much more air space so people forget just how much of our electric grid is based on coal and natural gas,” she said. “It’s a massive chunk, and if you phase out coal and natural gas, what comes online to replace that will be less reliable and more expensive.”

Jessica Towhey writes on education and energy policy for