In April 2015, the United States Environmental Protection Agency issued a final rule governing the control and management of coal combustion residuals (CCR) in surface impoundments used to treat those residuals. In general, CCR consists of materials that result from the combustion of coal at coal-fired electric utility plants. As part of its rule, EPA required operators to submit initial closure plans for impoundments and post them on a publicly available website in November 2016. Under the rule, these initial closure plans must contain information related to the method of closure, and are subject to change as operators gather additional information. Continue Reading District Court Dismisses First Ever CCR Rule Citizen Suit
There are 7.6 billion people on the planet today. By 2050, there are projected to be 9.7 billion—or put another way, in just thirty years we will add the equivalent population of seven United States. The world’s most credible energy forecasting entities predict a global increase over that time not only in demand for energy, but demand for fossil energy. Even with steady increases in energy efficiency and a massive increase in renewables, consumption of fossil fuels will grow. That means carbon dioxide emissions won’t be reduced significantly without some technology to do so. Continue Reading More Energy From Carbon, Lower Emissions
As part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, Congress significantly increased and extended the Section 45Q tax credit for sequestration of carbon oxides. This has been a top priority of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) supporters for several years.
CCS is considered to be essential to global efforts to reduce CO2 emissions. The world’s most respected analysis organizations all estimate that fossil fuel use will increase in the coming decades, even with energy efficiency improvements and vast increases in renewable energy. Continue Reading Section 45Q Tax Credit Enhancements Could Boost CCS
Energy ministers from participating Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum (CSLF) countries will meet to discuss carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) issues in Abu Dhabi December 3-7. Below are some suggestions for a US position heading into the meeting. Before listing them, perhaps a bit of background on the CSLF and CCS is in order.
The CSLF was founded in 2003 with a mission to promote development and deployment of CCS technologies. It describes itself as “a Ministerial-level international climate change initiative that is focused on the development of improved cost-effective technologies for . . . CCS. It also promotes awareness and champions legal, regulatory, financial, and institutional environments conducive to such technologies.” Participants currently include 25 countries plus the European Union. It is unique in bringing together energy ministers and various stakeholders to discuss issues in open dialogue.
Environmental groups are raising the stakes for power companies facing allegations of coal-ash liability. Power plants that burn coal to produce electricity also create byproducts in the process, known as “coal combustion residuals,” or CCRs. CCRs go by several names, but are commonly known as “coal ash.”
Historically, power companies have stored CCRs in settling ponds, also known as “coal-ash basins.” Coal-ash storage and disposal can lead to allegations of groundwater contamination and environmental contamination claims. Environmental groups have sought to require companies to pay for remediation of disposal sites and alleged groundwater contamination; address alleged natural resource damages; and conduct extensive monitoring and sampling of onsite and offsite sediments, groundwater, fish, and other wildlife.
On August 23, the Department of Energy (DOE) released a study entitled “Staff Report to the Secretary on Energy Markets and Reliability.” This is the so-called “DOE grid study” that Secretary of Energy Rick Perry ordered his chief of staff Brian McCormack to produce in an April 14 memorandum, noting that “Over the last few years…grid experts have expressed concerns about the erosion of critical baseload resources.”
These concerns have been simmering for several years. As the US Environmental Protection Agency was developing the rule that became the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)—prompted by then-Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Ranking Republican Lisa Murkowski—held a multi-day meeting to evaluate potential electric reliability impacts from anticipated closings of coal-fired power plants prompted by the rule.
Several presidential administrations have sought to shorten the lengthy process for obtaining federal authorizations and permits, with particular attention on infrastructure projects that usually require multiple federal permits with accompanying environmental reviews. Despite consistent interest in improving this process, delays persist, in part because of how courts have interpreted the level of analysis required during these environmental reviews. This past Tuesday, President Trump issued a new Executive Order (EO) 13807: “Establishing Discipline and Accountability in the Environmental Review and Permitting Process for Infrastructure Projects.” As this EO is implemented, the big question is: How much relief can this or any other executive action provide?
Over the past several years, the EPA and states have wrestled with the highly controversial question of how to manage ash and other residual materials produced by the combustion of coal in coal-fired power plants. These so-called “coal combustion residuals” (“CCR”) have been traditionally managed in large man-made ponds at many power plant sites. While discharges from these impoundments directly to surface waters are regulated by permits issued under the Clean Water Act, the impoundments themselves have been regulated under state waste management programs. In 2015, EPA fundamentally changed the regulatory landscape for these facilities when it promulgated a federal rule setting national standards for design, operation and closure of CCR impoundments. EPA, Hazardous and Solid Waste Management System; Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals from Electric Utilities, 80 Fed. Reg. 21,302 (Apr. 17, 2015).
The federal authorizations required to construct major infrastructure and mineral-extraction projects are the product of years of administrative review and collaboration between agencies and the project proponents. Unfortunately, the issuance of those authorizations is followed quickly by legal challenges from environmental NGOs, which almost always include a demand for preliminary injunctive relief during the pendency of the challenge. If granted, these injunctions can delay the effectiveness of the authorization by years.
In a series of orders this week, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit granted motions by EPA to pause cases challenging several Obama-era regulatory actions while the new administration reviews those rules. With those cases on hold, the dispute over the fate of those rules will move out of the courts and into the administrative process. Continue Reading DC Circuit Pausing Challenges to Obama Environmental Rules Pending Trump Administration’s Review