Washington

Republicans urge EPA to streamline rules on carbon capture technology


Republican lawmakers on Thursday demanded that the Environmental Protection Agency loosen rules that make it difficult for power plants to deploy technology that captures carbon dioxide emissions before the greenhouse gas enters the earth’s atmosphere.

They called on the EPA to streamline its New Source Review permitting program. The process, created in the 1970s, allows the EPA wide latitude in regulating industrial facilities that produce environmental pollutants.

“I think one thing we can all agree to is the world needs to reduce its carbon emissions and I think we are on the same page here,” said Rep. David McKinley of West Virginia, a senior Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “But what I want [is] to look at what will need to happen for a power plant to meet that goal.”

At an international White House summit on climate last week, President Biden pledged that the U.S. would curtail greenhouse gas emissions by 50% to 52% over the next decade.

Reaching that target will depend on another policy initiative the president has embraced: a 100% carbon-free electricity mandate by 2035.

Electricity generation, which relies heavily on coal and natural gas, makes up 25% of all U.S. emissions, according to the EPA.

If Mr. Biden is serious about decarbonizing electricity, Republicans said, the administration should work to make carbon capture technology “commercially viable.”

Coal and natural gas plants have to undergo an EPA review before they can begin construction or modification on any new facilities or technologies.

Regulators argue the program safeguards the environment by ensuring power plants and factories are not doing anything that could lead to increased emissions. Critics contend that the permitting process slows the advance of carbon capture technology.

“Utility companies have found that it takes seven to eight years to get a New Source Review permit, and then perform the engineering, design, permitting, and installation of carbon capture on a unit to achieve net-zero,” Mr. McKinley said. “If utilities must comply with the Democrats’ 2030 goal, they will have to start this immediately using today’s technology.”

Complicating matters are the inconsistencies as to when a New Source Review permit is required and what type of work falls under the program’s purview.  

A recent analysis by the Government Accountability Office found that the EPA reviewed 831 projects and found that 467 of them violated the program after the “upgrades had been made.”  

The call to streamline the program comes as Mr. Biden pushes for an expansion of solar and wind power. Democrats hope that the two energy sources can soon rival coal and natural gas in electricity production.

“If we act now, in 50 years people are going to look back and say, this was the moment that America won the future,’” Mr. Biden said recently when announcing his proposal for a clean electricity standard.

Republicans argue that phasing out fossil fuels and relying solely on wind and solar, which provide intermittent power, would destabilize the U.S. electrical grid. In particular, GOP lawmakers point to the fact that solar and wind power fluctuates heavily depending on location and terrain.

“We need to be realistic about the limitations of energy sources such as wind and solar that cannot generate electricity all the time,” said Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee.

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